The Federal Government has hit the Opposition with a $24,000 fee to access documents concerning the fate of the original National Broadband Network proposal.
Shadow Communications Minister Nick Minchin lodged a Freedom of Information (FOI) request for documents relating to the tender process for the original NBN plan, which was replaced by the current $43 billion plan.
Minchin said that the FOI request was triggered by the Government’s refusal to release the information in Parliament and the defiance of two Senate orders to do so.
“As a result, the release of this information is clearly in the public interest. Despite this, the Opposition is now told it would have to pay almost $24,000 simply to have the FOI request further processed, with no guarantees that anything will even be released.”
The Rudd Government has previously expressed its intention to increase transparency and accountability in Government. It passed a bill in November 2008 to abolish ‘conclusive certificates’ — a clause of the FOI Act that allowed broad scope to refuse FOI requests — and established a new Information Commissioner’s office to further reform FOI laws.
But Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA) spokesperson Geordie Guy says that arbitrary costs attached to FOI requests are a tool used regularly by Government departments to stymie access to sensitive or potentially damaging information.
"The EFA has submitted FOI requests to the government before about things, and we’ve similarly been told to go away in the form of a bill for many tens of thousands of dollars," Guy said.
Guy said that the Department of Broadband, Communications and Digital Economy has methodically built a culture of secrecy around its activities and that the public has a right to know why the original NBN proposal was suddenly amended so drastically.
"It would appear they’re talking about reforming the FOI laws and making things more accessible unless what’s trying to be accessed is material for having a close look at what the Government’s doing on a particular piece of policy," he said.
"If they’re protecting it with a $24,000 price tag you’d have to think that there’s something in there that’s being protected."