Alcoa (Portland Aluminium Smelter) (Amendment) Act Amendment Bill 2015


Mr BARBER (Northern Metropolitan) — I move:

That the bill be now read a second time.

This is a very straightforward bill. It removes from our freedom of information laws an exemption which, to the extent that it was ever necessary, no longer has any legitimate purpose.

Section 14 of the Alcoa (Portland Aluminium Smelter) (Amendment) Act 1984 exempts from the operation of the Freedom of Information Act 1982 any document relating to the 'operation or carrying-on of the smelter site or anything done or to be done on or in relation to the smelter site'.

The exemption arose out of the agreements between the Victorian government and Alcoa to continue construction of the Portland aluminium smelter in 1984.

The Premier of Victoria at the time, Mr Cain, was concerned about trade secrets of Alcoa and other parties, which, he said during the debate:

could not be made public without commercial disadvantages to the bodies involved.[1]

The exemption was aimed squarely at commercially sensitive documents.

It was created, he said, so that:

companies that signed heads of agreement and other prospective participants in the joint venture will accordingly be reassured that information about trade secrets and documents of a sensitive commercial nature will be declared to have clear exempt status for freedom of information purposes.

Mr Cain went on to describe the amount of information that had already been made public by the government with the support of Alcoa, pursuant to:

commitment to open and frank disclosure within sensible commercial limits.

Removal of section 14 will not harm Alcoa's commercial interests.

Any of the documents under the original 1984 agreements, or any new documents containing commercially sensitive information, would be covered by the exemption under section 34 of the Freedom of Information Act 1982, which states:

34       Documents relating to trade secrets etc.

(1)   A document is an exempt document if its disclosure under this Act would disclose information acquired by an agency or a Minister from a business, commercial or financial undertaking and the information relates to — [2]

(a)    trade secrets; or

(b)   other matters of a business, commercial or financial nature and the disclosure of the information would be likely to expose the undertaking unreasonably to disadvantage.

In August 2014, the Alcoa aluminium smelter at Point Henry, Geelong, ceased operations. In May 2015, the company announced it would soon cease operations at the Anglesea mine and power station. In October this year, the historical electricity subsidy paid to the Portland smelter will expire.

The public interest is now in the plans for decommissioning and rehabilitation of the Anglesea and Point Henry sites. There can be no further justification for a special exemption for this particular set of facilities.

This provision is unnecessary today and should be removed, to bring Alcoa's operations and interactions with government under the same freedom of information regime as every other commercial enterprise in Victoria.

I commend the bill to the house.

Debate adjourned on motion of Mr MELHEM (Western Metropolitan).

Debate adjourned until Wednesday, 10 June.

[1] Hansard, Legislative Assembly, 6 September 1984 (p.172)

[2] S. 34(1) substituted by No. 57/1999 s. 7(1).