Protest risk cited in FOI silence
The Federal Government agency looking at Adani’s $1 billion loan request will not have to give details to the public.
The Government’s Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF) has rejected a freedom of information request from Greenpeace, saying it could encourage protesters and media interest.
The NAIF controls $5 billion to be handed out over five years for private sector investment in developments for the top half of the country, including ports, rail, energy and airports.
Indian mining giant Adani wants to access the fund to pay for a rail link from its proposed Carmichael coal mine in Queensland to the Abbot Point coal port.
Greenpeace lodged an FOI request seeking “documents indicating the dates and locations of NAIF board meetings that have been scheduled in 2017”.
NAIF chief Laurie Walker refused, saying “disclosure of the dates of board meeting could reasonably be expected to adversely affect the NAIF's operations”.
Ms Walker is concerned about media attention and protest activity.
“Large amounts of people and noise at the site of the board meeting is very likely to adversely affect the board's ability to operate effectively, in meeting to deliberate policies, as well as progressing and making any determinations on any relevant expressions of interest or proposal,” she said.
Greenpeace Australia CEO David Ritter said the rejection was shocking.
“It is completely unacceptable and it is an affront to just basic democratic principles of transparency,” he said.
Rick Snell, an FOI expert and the acting dean of law at the University of Tasmania, said NAIF was violating key principles, preventing the freedom to peacefully protest, blocking implied freedom of speech, and not upholding the Commonwealth Freedom of Information Act.
“I think it is really pushing the boundaries of this exemption claim and it sets a bad precedent for other agencies who would be able to exploit it to an even greater extent,” he said.
“In a liberal democracy, all public sector organisations have to take into account that there will be some disruption from civil disobedience or protesters.”
NAIF says “its decision was made in accordance with the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act 1982”.
Greenpeace has complained to the Information Commissioner.
Greenpeace has also has an FOI request knocked back by the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA).
Greenpeace was seeking information on “BP's approved Well Operations Management Plan for the Great Australian Bight Project”, including potential impact on whales.
NOPSEMA said there would be unreasonable and adverse impacts on its activities, including “the likelihood of opposition/protest groups using the information to oppose all drilling activities in the Great Australian Bight”.
NOPSEMA said BP objected to allowing the documents’ release.
“It is important to note that the BP concern was one of a number of objections and factors NOPSEMA considered in its decision,” a NOPSEMA spokesperson said.
Greenpeace called it “outrageous” and “startling”, claiming NOPSEMA withheld the information because “BP told it to”.
“This is supposed to be an independent regulator, not an extension of the oil industry,” Mr Ritter said.