Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2005 Week 02 Hansard (Tuesday, 15 February 2005) . . Page.. 423 ..
specifications and other technical data on territory infrastructure and buildings that could fall into the wrong hands and be used to endanger public safety. The government is obviously concerned that if detailed information on the layout and operation of certain important public buildings and infrastructure were publicly available, terrorists and criminals could use it. The proposed amendments would expand the scope of confidential material to include plans, drawings and specifications that could be used to jeopardise public safety. At present, non-disclosable information relates only to details of individuals and material deemed to be commercial in confidence.
Regrettably, this bill is a reflection of the way in which the world is changing. What used to be safe is no longer safe. Since the events of 11 September we have all had to look more carefully at society’s vulnerability to attack from terrorists. Public buildings, even in this country, are at greater risk than they used to be. We have only to look at what has happened at federal Parliament House. How different it is now compared with the building that was opened in 1988. Yesterday, when I was conferring with the industrial relations minister, I noticed the construction of a wall that was fairly unsightly but that sadly appears necessary in the current climate.
If Parliament House were being built today would the plans, drawings, specifications and other technical data be kept confidential? How much did the Chief Minister, the Assembly’s resident civil libertarian, agonise over this bill? He must have had some doubts about the steady drift to secrecy in the name of greater security. In the trade-off between open disclosure and accountability versus protecting the community from risks, the government has come down on the side of reducing risk. We do not take issue with that general principle. The minister cited Woden police station and the ACT prison as examples of where the disclosure of detailed information on design and operation could put the community at risk due to use of that information by people who want to inflict harm, which I think is a reasonable argument.
The key questions that the minister will have to address in each case are: how much information should be made available and to whom should it be disclosed, bearing in mind the need to preserve public safety and security? I have one small concern about this bill. It is possible that it might prevent information being made fully available to the Assembly and thus diminish the effectiveness of this legislature in scrutinising the executive and keeping it accountable. I have therefore proposed an amendment to remove any doubt about the power of the Assembly to send for papers and records and to be fully informed of the government’s plans in this regard.
DR FOSKEY (Molonglo) (4.56): The ACT Greens support this bill. However, because it limits public access to some information it warrants a closer look. The ACT as a municipality is quite good at making information on procurement contracts open to the public. It appears that the tendency to resist disclosure by describing almost every deal with government as commercial in confidence has ended, partly as a result of the Assembly amending and passing Independent MLA Paul Osborne’s Public Access to Government Contracts Bill 2000, which required the public release of all government procurement contracts with a specified schedule of confidential exemptions.
That regime was then cleaned up with the passage of the Government Procurement Amendment Bill 2003 when the legislation was consolidated into one act, including a provision that required the reporting to the Auditor-General of contracts with text