NBN Co faces secrecy probe on commercial sensitivity

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NBN Co faces secrecy probe on commercial sensitivity

First review targets transparency.

Federal Attorney-General Nicola Roxon has targeted legislative exemptions used by NBN Co in assessing freedom of information requests from the public and media in an initial review into the company's compliance with the FoI Act.

The review will be conducted externally from the department and look to gauge "the extent to which the NBN Co has achieved compliance with the legislative arrangements".

In the review's terms of reference, the department specifically indicated the review should focus on the commercial sensitivity clause, which provides NBN Co with a means to knock back transparency requests.

A spokesman for the department told iTnews that the Federal Government would "closely consider the outcomes of the review", including a potential narrowing of the scope in which NBN Co could claim commercial sensitivity.

NBN Co has received 33 requests for documents since becoming subjected to FoI  legislation, and publicly released 46 documents in response to both requests as part of a proactive document publication scheme.

Only one decision has been referred to the Government's Freedom of Information Commissioner for review since NBN Co was subjected to the legislation.

The Federal Government is required to conduct the review, to be completed by June 30, as part of a deal struck between the Greens and the Federal Government in March last year to pass legislation key to the National Broadband Network through the Senate.

It saw NBN Co subjected to freedom of information requests for the first time in June that year, but with the proviso that any documents released did not relate to NBN Co's commercial activities.

The company has since used that excuse at least twice in relation to freedom of information requests for documents lodged by iTnews and Internode, along with the notion that, "in the extreme [releasing data] may mean that NBN Co would be unable to proceed with its mandate to roll out the national broadband network, which would have a negative impact on the Australian public".

NBN Co's legal team said that the scope of its exemption from legislation for commercial sensitivity reasons is broader than other government bodies like Australia Post and CSIRO.

Legal responsibility for the Freedom of Information Act transitioned from the Prime Minister's Department to the Attorney-General in a cabinet reshuffle during October last year.

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