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Tuesday, August 07, 2012

NBN Co's FOI "good behaviour" report card coming soon?

The report by Stuart Morris QC on NBN Co's first year partially subject to the Freedom of Information Act was due to be completed by the end of June so may be tabled soon after Parliament resumes next week. What he makes of things should be interesting in the light of reports of excessive secrecy, and Malcolm Turnbull's comment that no other government agency had ‘‘so frequently frustrated reasonable requests."

Last week NBN Co claimed commercial sensitivity in refusing access under the FOI act to details of its two-year relationship with investment bank Goldman Sachs JBWere (GSJBW). The Sydney Morning Herald reports this explanation:
‘If our company were required to divulge commercially sensitive information...the net effect would be to place an unfair and onerous burden upon NBN Co. This burden would translate into higher costs for the company’.. ‘‘The [identified] documents contain GSJBW’s proprietory information, which is subject to a confidentiality regime. In that regard, GSJBW provided strong objections to the release of these documents...GSJBW contend that it would not be possible to produce appropriate redactions, as all the information is intrinsic to the nature of GSJBW’s confidential and proprietary dealings with its clients. Any such release could damage GSJBW’s business, commercial and financial interests.’’
NBN Co also claimed it could be subject to legal action if it released any information which would damage its image, brand and reputation within the market.

The SMH reports Greens Senator Scott Ludlum who played a key role in setting up the changes that brought NBN Co within scope of the FOI act, with a review after 12 months, said the company appears to be using the commercial exemptions in ways that were never intended. And that Shadow communications spokesman, Malcolm Turnbull, said no government agency had ‘‘so frequently frustrated reasonable requests’’ as NBN Co:
“Unlike Medibank Private and Australia Post, the NBN Co has no competition and so it should only very rarely use commercial confidence as a reason for shielding itself from FOI inquiries.    It is also exempt from the Public Works Committee scrutinising its contracts and has continued to oppose the Joint NBN Committee’s attempts at oversight,’’ he said.
Rob Oakeshott, chairman of that committee confirmed this in the Financial Review today:
"..the government had not been providing the public with all the key details and data needed to properly monitor the NBN’s progress....Mr Oakeshott said he did not understand why the government was reticent about providing his committee with up-to- date financial and construction data on the NBN... “Most of our relationship [with the government] has been good but there’s been this issue around data and the committee has raised it a couple of times,” he said. “We’re an agnostic committee that will promote the good and criticise the bad. So there’s no ­reason to play games with the committee and in fact doing so will only ­agitate the 59 members involved.”

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