QUESTION: Freedom of Information

In Question Time, Mark asked the Minister for Health and Wellbeing about his noncompliance with a determination of the Ombudsman to release documents under the Freedom of Information Act (his third question on this matter). 


The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: This is not a new matter. It is a matter I have raised numerous times before, both in direct communication with the Minister's office and also twice in question time here. The subject matter of the documents I seek is the regulation of new GM technologies, but that is irrelevant to the question.

Five months ago, in September last year, the Ombudsman made a final determination to overturn the Minister's refusal to hand over certain documents under the Freedom of Information Act. The Freedom of Information Act provides that any party who is aggrieved by the Ombudsman's decision has 30 days to appeal to SACAT. No appeal has ever been lodged; however, the Minister has still refused to hand over the documents. I thought he might have been embarrassed into complying with the law by my question in Parliament on 13 November last year, but he still failed to hand over the documents.

He committed in Parliament:

…I will certainly consult with my freedom of information officer and seek an update of the progress of the honourable member's application.

All I subsequently heard were crickets and tumbleweeds. So, three weeks later, on 3 December last year, I again asked during question time when the Minister would be complying with the law and handing over the documents, as ordered by the Ombudsman. The Minister replied that he had every intention of abiding by the law, and he referred to review mechanisms for the Ombudsman's decision. He also said, 'We will continue to consider our options in relation to the freedom of information.'

For the Minister's benefit, the period within which he or the Commonwealth or any other interested party can appeal against the Ombudsman's decision expired on 26 October last year. If you don't appeal, you must hand over the documents—that's the law.

My questions of the Minister are:

1. When will the Minister hand over the documents?

2. Does the Minister think he is above the law?

3. And here is a new one: what is the Minister hiding?

The Hon. S.G. WADE (Minister for Health and Wellbeing): I thank the honourable member for his question. As I indicated in the answer that the member referred to, I did seek an update from my FOI officer. Following that, I sought further advice. I apologise for the delay. Having considered the further advice, the documents will be with the member shortly.