GUNNS PULP MILL
Senator MILNE (Tasmania) (4.03 p.m.)-I move:
That there be laid on the table, no later than 4 pm on 28 August 2008, the report prepared for the Federal Government by Dr Michael Herzfeld, a Coastal Environmental Modeller with the Marine and Atmospheric Research section of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in conjunction with the Gunns Pulp Mill Independent Expert Group on the potential marine impact of effluent from the Gunns pulp mill.
Senator McLUCAS (Queensland-Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Health and Ageing) (4.12 p.m.)-by leave-I seek to make a short statement with reference to the previous decision. I advise the Senate that a decision was made-
Senator Bob Brown-Mr Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. I cannot hear Senator McLucas.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT-I take that point of order. I ask for order while Senator McLucas is speaking.
Senator McLUCAS-by a departmental office that the document in question should not be released under section 43 of the Freedom of Information Act because the document sought by Senator Milne contains material that is preliminary and based on a number of assumptions. The document was not commissioned by any person and has not been peer reviewed or validated by field data. Dr Herzfeld states in the document that the modelling undertaken is unverified for accuracy.
There is a strong likelihood that the material in the document could erroneously be interpreted or presented as final rather than preliminary or as based on fact rather than assumptions. The discussion based-
Senator Bob Brown-Mr Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. I am sorry, but I cannot hear what the minister is saying and I ask you to ask for a little bit of silence so that we can hear what she is saying as it is very important.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT-I will, Senator Brown, but the level of noise is not much greater than I have heard during many debates. Senator McLucas, perhaps you could speak up a bit.
Senator McLUCAS-I will start from the second point. There is a strong likelihood that the material in the document could erroneously be interpreted or presented as final rather than preliminary or as based on fact rather than assumptions. The discussion based on such an interpretation or presentation could mislead the public and create uncertainty, pressure and complexity for Gunns Ltd in its dealings with its stakeholders, including the general public. I can advise the Senate that Senator Milne has appeal rights under the FOI Act to seek review of this decision.
Senator MILNE (Tasmania) (4.15 p.m.)-by leave-I began the request for this document in April this year. I was told it would cost $1,600 to get it. I reviewed the application and was told it would cost $134 to get it. I said I would pay the money. After that, they said it was exempt. I think the last matter that Senator McLucas raised is the point in question: the release of it would add to the pressure and complexity for Gunns in their dealings with stakeholders and the public. Under section 23 of the FOI Act the minister has the power to make a decision himself. I think it is cowardice on behalf of the government to blame a departmental officer when the minister is clearly making a decision to prevent the public having this document in the public interest. That is the case in relation to this. I have appealed the matter and I will be asking the minister to release it under section 23. But, ultimately, it is the houses of parliament that determine what can and cannot be released, and I am disappointed that Liberal and Labor have determined not to allow the public to see this document in the public interest.