NBN Co passes 'commercial activities' scrutiny

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NBN Co passes 'commercial activities' scrutiny

Review finds freedom of information exemptions valid.

NBN Co has been cleared in its use of "commercial" grounds to deny Freedom of Information requests, with a review finding no grounds to change or revoke the exemption.

A review of NBN Co's FoI performance (pdf) found it in compliance with relevant legislation, displaying a general "pro-disclosure attitude" and "not... extravagant in claiming exemptions" from releasing requested information.

"In my view, NBN Co has not only fulfilled its lawful responsibilities under the FoI Act, but also has achieved a high standard in its administration of the Act," auditor Stuart Morris QC said.

Between 11 June 2011 and 31 May 2012, NBN Co received 35 requests for documents, of which 17 were withdrawn. Two applicants were granted full releases of documents.

Common reasons for NBN Co to knock back FoI requests were that they related to NBN Co's "commercial activities" or to documents "disclosing trade secrets or commercially valuable information".

An iTnews request relating to the cost of a fibre extension in Tasmania was knocked back using the "commercial activities" exemption.

Morris found no basis to seek any changes to the operation of the "commercial activities" exemption.

He also found NBN Co's FoI officer had "gone to considerable lengths to precisely identify why in each case he considers the particular documents requested concern information relating to NBN Co's commercial activities".

"There is no basis to conclude that the broad nature of "commercial activities" exemption has been abused; or that it has had the effect of unreasonably broadening the field of exempt documents," he said.

"Moreover, in my view, an attempt to confine the exemption is likely to add complexity and uncertainty to the concept; and is likely to produce anomalous outcomes".

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