The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, has defended her Government’s decision to give NBN Co an exemption from Freedom of Information (FoI) requests despite its status as a taxpayer-funded company.
NBN Co is the company responsible for rolling out the $35.9 billion National Broadband Network.
Speaking at a Melbourne press conference earlier today, Gillard said there was “nothing extraordinary or unusual about” banning FoI requests into NBN Co.
“My understanding is this is the ordinary operation of the Freedom of Information Act, that a body like NBN Co would not be subject to it,” she said. “The system’s there and the system is one where something like NBN Co is not covered by it…it’s just ordinary business of government.”
But the comments seemingly clash those of NBN Co CEO, Mike Quigley, who told a Sydney press conference earlier this month he thought taxpayer dollars required a high degree of transparency.
“We are a publicly funded company and we should be completely as open as we possibly can be without damaging the commercial sensibilities,” he said when asked about the release of NBN Co’s business case.
The news has caused an outcry from both the Australian Greens and the Coalition. The Greens’ communications spokesperson, Senator Scott Ludlam, said he was surprised by the decision and would introduce a private members bill to overturn it before February 10.
“The precedent for past Government business enterprises is that they are subject to FoIs,” he said. “NBN Co is handling upwards of $27.5bn of our money and I can’t see any real reason why they should escape FoI requests.”
Despite Shadow Communications Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, publicly opposing the move, Ludlam said he did not automatically expect the Coalition’s support for his Bill.
“We’ll write to (Turnbull) today to seek their support because it’s something I intend to move on quite quickly,” he said. “The fact is they’ve got an Opposition geared up to destroy the thing so I think they’re in their bunker a bit…because the project has become so politicised.”