Information blackout: Govt doesn’t give an FOI ...

 

THE Northern Territory government has refused to release a report outlining how it can achieve its 50 per cent renewable energy target and what it will cost.

The government paid Sydney economists HoustonKemp $218,768 to prepare the report - delivered last April - on "Achieving the Northern Territory Renewable Energy Target".

The NT News applied for a copy of the report through Freedom of Information laws but, when it was released, 116 of the report's 118 pages had been completely redacted.

 

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While the government has never detailed the expected cost of achieving its renewable energy target, it's understood those details are explored in the HoustonKemp report.

But the Department of Chief Minister approved the release of just two pages from the report - the front and back covers.

In refusing access to the other 116 pages, Acting Manager of Governance Kelly Garrett said the information was exempt "because it was brought into existence for submission to and consideration by an executive body (in this instance, cabinet), and was considered by the executive body".

Despite the reason for the redactions, Chief Minister Michael Gunner appeared unfamiliar with the report when the NT News asked him about it at a press conference last week.

Araluen MLA Robyn Lambley said the refusal made a mockery of the government's promise to be open and accountable.

"Redacting 116 pages of a 118-page document is evidence that they're trying to hide what's going on here," she said.

 

Araluen MLA Robyn Lambley said the refusal made a mockery of the government’s promise to be open and accountable. Picture: Che Chorley
Araluen MLA Robyn Lambley said the refusal made a mockery of the government’s promise to be open and accountable. Picture: Che Chorley

 

In a document Mr Gunner tabled in parliament in November 2016, entitled Restoring Integrity to Government, he promised to reform Freedom of Information provisions so "all decisions regarding the release of information are taken under the presumption of openness and maximum disclosure".

"Territorians have the right to access government information - it belongs to all of us," the document said. "Open, transparent and accountable government is also the best way to maximise the health and prosperity of the whole community.

"Not only is it the right thing to do, but it's the smart thing to do."

Last night Mr Gunner's spokesman said Freedom of Information decisions were "made by officers according to the Act, and the reasons for the decisions are clearly explained by the relevant officer".

"In the last term the government made several changes to improve transparency, including establishing the ICAC and a range of parliamentary reforms," he said.

Chief Minister Michael Gunner appeared unfamiliar with the report when the NT News asked him about it at a press conference last week. Picture: Che Chorley
Chief Minister Michael Gunner appeared unfamiliar with the report when the NT News asked him about it at a press conference last week. Picture: Che Chorley

The information blackout follows serious concerns raised by the Utilities Commission about the potential for actual blackouts if the government continued to pursue its renewable energy target.

In its latest Electricity Outlook Report - released in June - the commission warned it was "extremely challenging (if not unrealistic)" for the Territory to source 50 per cent of its electricity consumption from renewable energy sources.

Achieving the target was not impossible, but would be complex and expensive, the report said.

"In short, the initial modelling showed for each percentage step increase in renewable energy consumed, it was exponentially more challenging to achieve in terms of the amount of installed capacity required and subsequent costs of large-scale solar PV and/or battery storage, noting the modelling did not take economic considerations into account," the report said.

Chamber of Commerce chief executive Greg Ireland urged the government to act with caution, saying businesses had already seen power prices rise by more than 30 per cent over the past three years. He said there also were concerns about electricity supply: "We're already seeing the impacts of solar generation on the grid itself, with us dipping into areas of supply that are unstable, and potential blackouts could be a result."

But Mr Gunner's spokesman said renewable energy had risen from 2 per cent to 16 per cent in the past four years, and the government was on track to meet its 50 per cent target.

"We're investing about $60m in renewables so far, including in the big battery for the Darwin to Katherine network, which will deliver grid stability and lower prices," he said.

Originally published as Information blackout: Gunner Government doesn't give an FOI ...


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