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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2001 Week 1 Hansard (15 February) . . Page.. 238 ..

MR QUINLAN (continuing):

Amongst the propositions for vote buying was a reduction in general rates. As it happens, I am interested in our rating system and I recently sought access to the PALM database. This was refused but I was informed that for the sum of $443.95 plus postage I could purchase information on unimproved values. In the new age spirit of consultation, openness and cooperation, will you as Chief Minister issue a directive that all MLAs should be afforded maximum access to government files, excluding cabinet documents, of course? Will you also issue a directive that MLAs should not be required to pay fees for access or for freedom of information requests?

MR HUMPHRIES: Let me react first of all to that last point. Of course, as far as FOI is concerned, it was this government which substantially wound back the processing charges which were previously applicable to FOI applications and which recently announced that it intends to abolish the application of fees altogether. I suggest that before you ask for a government to provide that kind of relief to members of the Assembly you reflect on the many hundreds of dollars which were collected by your colleagues in the previous Labor government from members on this side of the chamber when they made freedom of information requests.

Mr Quinlan: It is a draft budget though now, mate. We are in the boat with you working on the draft budget, mate.

MR HUMPHRIES: So let me get this straight: you want us to give you free access to things that you did not give us free access to when you were in government? Notwithstanding the breathtaking hypocrisy of that, it has been the policy of the government to maximise the availability of information on the public record to members of this place to aid them in their work. Indeed, as a general rule members of this place do receive information without any cost. If they approach agencies of government which have information on databases that they charge for then not surprisingly it would be the reaction of those agencies to say, "Well, we charge people for this information. If Mr so and so MLA comes through the door we should also charge him."

I do not know about the request that you made for the PALM database. Mr Smyth does not know about it either so I assume it was made directly to PALM rather than through one of our offices. I suggest that if you want that kind of information and you do not want to have to pay the usual charges that apply you should come through our offices because we will likely be able to facilitate that access for you.

Mr Berry: And filter it before we get it.

MR HUMPHRIES: With great respect, the alternative is that you put out a general edict saying, "If a member of the Assembly comes through the door and wants something the government has for sale they do not have to be charged for it." I think that is slightly too broad a proposition. I am quite happy for members to get access to information that they need to do their work but I do not think the general principle that they can go to any government agency and simply demand things for free should necessarily follow.

So I am saying that if Mr Quinlan or others have a request for information for which a charge is usually levied they should come and talk to the relevant minister. I am sure the minister concerned would consider sympathetically the request that is made.

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