QUESTION: Non compliance with Freedom of Information legislation

In Question Time, Mark asked the Minister for Health and Wellbeing why his office have continued to refuse to release documents requested under Freedom of Information, in defiance of the Ombudsman's ruling. These documents were Government consideration of market impacts if the proposed federal deregulation of a number of new GM techniques were approved. 

The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: During question time in September last year, I asked the Minister for Health and Wellbeing about Government consideration of market impacts if the proposed federal deregulation of a number of new GM techniques were to be approved. In the absence of a comprehensive answer, I then applied in October last year to the Minister's office for relevant documents under the Freedom of Information Act. I requested access to the regulatory impact statement and other related documents.

My freedom of information application was refused by the Minister in December last year. I then appealed to the Ombudsman by way of external review. In July this year, the Ombudsman made a provisional determination, followed in September by a final determination to reverse the Minister's decision, ordering that all of the 18 documents in question be released to me in full.

Under the Act, the Minister had 30 days in which to appeal against the Ombudsman's decision. That period expired over two weeks ago, on 26 October. No appeal has been lodged. I again wrote to the Minister's freedom of information officer on 5 November this year asking for the documents, but still have not received them.

Leaving aside the Minister's clear breach of the law, these documents are important because they informed the decision that was made by a ministerial forum earlier this year to deregulate these new GM technologies. That decision was subsequently implemented via commonwealth government regulations, which are the subject of a Greens' disallowance motion which is being voted on in the Senate this afternoon. Senators are now having to vote on a disallowance motion without having been given access to key documents that informed the decision to pass the regulations in the first place.

Noting that this Marshall Liberal Government came to office with the promise to the electorate of being an open and accountable government, my questions of the Minister are:

1. Why has the Minister's office continued to refuse to release these documents in defiance of the Ombudsman's ruling?

2. Is the refusal a cynical political ploy to hide the documents until after the Senate disallowance motion has been resolved?

3. When will the Minister's office comply with the Ombudsman's determination and release these 18 documents to me in full?

The Hon. S.G. WADE (Minister for Health and Wellbeing): I must admit to the Hon. Mark Parnell that I am not anywhere so cunning. I wasn't even aware that there was a Senate vote this afternoon being promoted by the Greens. In relation to the Senate vote, I would stress that we are not the only state in the federation. The information may well have been available from a number of sources.

My recollection of the early stages of the FOI was that concerns were expressed in terms of intergovernmental relations—the participation between the state and the commonwealth and other jurisdictions—but I will certainly consult with my freedom of information officer and seek an update of the progress of the honourable member's application.