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Monday, November 22, 2010

The Senate pursues the PM's "let the sun shine in" promise

 Thadius856 & Parutakupiu via Wikimedia Commons
We can expect more on public interest immunity as the week progresses, but there are three issues in play in disputes over the production of documents in response to senate orders:

. the Australian Information Commissioner's opinion that without legislative amendment he has no powers to investigate or report on a government refusal to produce documents in parliament. His letter in response to a senate resolution requiring action by him was tabled on 15 November- but is not online. The legislation  certainly doesn't envision such a role. Senator Cormann in debate on 15 November, and perhaps the Clerk of the Senate have another view;

. the government failure to date to produce the NBN Co business plan- see last Thursday's debate; 

. and going back a little, the Government's failure to produce documents concerning the mining tax. Senator Cormann last week summarised the outstanding matters:
"The Senate passed three orders of the Senate on two occasions. They were broadly around three issues. They were around the issue of assumptions that were used by the government to estimate the revenue from the original mining tax, the RSPT, and from the revised mining tax, the minerals resource rent tax. In a separate order we sought details on the secret negotiations and deal entered into between the government and BHP, Rio and Xstrata. In a third motion we sought information about how much of the mining tax revenue would come from individual states and territories and how much would come from respective commodities. It is important to note here that Treasury took questions in relation to this on notice on 5 July at a hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Fuel and Energy and to this day these questions remain unanswered."

There are also references to failure to disclose documents concerning the Building the Education Revolution program, although it's unclear whether this was the subject of a senate resolution.

UpdateThe Senate on 22 November passed  a motion by Senator Cormann ordering the Australian Information Commissioner to reconsider his position to not report to the Senate on the Government's failure to produce documents relating to the mining tax.The Government opposed the motion. Senator Ludwig said the Prime Minister had asked her department
"to examine the issue and advise on possible options for implementing the agreements (with The Greens that the Commissioner be given such a role.) Once that advice is received, the government will progress this initiative. If the Australian Information Commissioner is to have this function, it is necessary and appropriate for the functions, powers and protections that would accompany it to be stipulated in legislation."
Thanks to Open Australia for the Hansard links.

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