Senate debates

Wednesday, 6 September 2017


Export Finance and Insurance Corporation Amendment (Support for Commonwealth Entities) Bill 2017; In Committee

11:25 am

Photo of Sarah Hanson-YoungSarah Hanson-Young (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

The remaining amendment is on sheet 8207. This is in relation to removing the exemption that Efic currently has in relation to freedom of information requests. I did speak about this at length during the second reading speech and in the questions to the minister previously at the committee stage. I just want to reiterate that this bill is asking the parliament to endorse expanding the powers, responsibilities and role of Efic; meanwhile, we know that there are big questions over Efic's ability to be straight and up-front with the parliament and the Australian people about the projects that it has already been funding and supporting. You'd think that, if the government honestly wanted to expand the role of Efic, they would get Efic's house in order first. They've missed the opportunity to do that.

This amendment injects necessary transparency into this process. If we're going to have an expanded role then the public, the parliament and the taxpayers need to know what Efic is doing, what types of projects it is funding and how it is operating. I've heard the minister already today say that Efic has more transparency than a private bank. Okay: it's a Commonwealth agency, it is Australian taxpayers' money, so it should. But what we see in reality is that every time there are questions to Efic from this place, in Senate estimates and through other avenues available to us as senators, about what Efic has done—issues in relation to projects that it has supported, how it gets to the due diligence stage for projects such as the Adani coalmine and the associated rail line—Efic pulls the non-disclosure card. It continues to duck and weave on genuine questions that should be answered. If there's nothing to hide, what is the problem?

While we've heard that there are genuine commercial-in-confidence issues in relation to companies, that is the excuse that always gets dragged out when government agencies don't want to be straight with the Australian people. That's what is constantly used as the catch-all excuse for not being transparent and for allowing secrecy to rule. It just doesn't cut it. These are billions of dollars that are not just there willy-nilly; this is the Australian people's money. They deserve to know. There needs to be an increased level of scrutiny and accountability, because these are public funds. Not only is Efic caught up in backing projects that have created instability in parts of the region, such as PNG or the South Pacific, in relation to Bougainville, and other areas but we also know that every time you ask Efic about why they made these decisions, what risk analysis they used, whether they considered the social, economic and political impacts, and how they missed that some of these terrible consequences would roll out in places like PNG, for example, in relation to the ExxonMobil project, you get nothing back.

Efic don't want to talk about these things. They pull the 'we don't know and we can't tell you' card. We need to break open what is a secretive and what has become an incredibly opaque organisation. This is a public institution. They are using public funds and the voters have a right to know. What we now see, as Efic moves into funding domestic based projects, such as in relation to the Adani Carmichael mine, is that the public have an increased desire to know why those decisions are being made. Who is making those decisions? What due diligence is being done? And yet, over and over again, we get nothing out of the bureaucrats who sit within the Efic framework, because of the ridiculously strict exemption in relation to freedom of information. We need to reform this. I'm not, as a matter of principle, opposed at all to the original intentions for what Efic was meant to do, but I fear that Efic has moved substantially away from its intended mandate. It has done that under a cloud of secrecy and it now has an opaque framework. Australian taxpayers have every right to be concerned.

Of course, it suits other government agencies, such as the NAIF, to be able to rely on the secret nature of Efic so that they don't have to maintain reasonable levels of transparency and respond to reasonable questions, whether they are questions from senators in this place, members from the other place, or, indeed, the public. We know that the NAIF has used the cover of Efic secrecy to not be straight about what is going on and why decisions are being made. No-one has been able to articulate why on earth Adani is even being considered for a billion-dollar public subsidy, when the Adani company themselves have said they don't need it; it's just that it's available. That means they should not meet the criteria. Why are they still sitting there like a puppy dog on the lap, begging for loose change—loose change that is costing the Australian taxpayer a billion dollars?

I saw the Prime Minister in his press conference just now refer to the fact that burning coal has never been so profitable. That's what the Prime Minister has just said today: burning coal has never been so profitable. I guess if you're funding and subsidising the coal industry with billions of dollars of Australian taxpayer money, anything could become profitable. What a load of gobbledygook. This government is so desperate to prop up the fossil fuel industry and the coal industry in this country that they not only allow Australian taxpayer money to roll out the door; they know that the public won't be happy, so they do it through this secretive, opaque mechanism. We need to blow this open. I think it's ridiculous that the government comes here asking this place to give Efic more powers yet less accountability, and makes no effort to clean up the lack of transparency that we all know is rank within the current Efic set-up. I commend the amendment to the House.

The CHAIR: Senator Hanson-Young, you need to move item (1) on sheet 8207.

I move the amendment on sheet 8207 which I have just referred to:

(1) Schedule 1, page 5 (after line 19), at the end of the Schedule, add:

Freedom of Information Act 1982

8 Division 1 of Part II of Schedule 2

Omit "Export Finance and Insurance Corporation, in relation to documents concerning anything done by it under Part 4 or 5 of the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation Act 1991".


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