It can be revealed that the Department of Defence is paying for Naval Group’s recent legal fees regarding a freedom of information request from South Australian senator Rex Patrick.
Over the last year, the Department of Defence and Naval Group have been engaged in a legal battle to ensure that freedom of information (FOI) documents requested by South Australian senator Rex Patrick regarding the precise costs of the Future Submarine Project remain sealed – a legal battle which can now be revealed have been covered by the Australian taxpayer.
In June 2018, Senator Patrick made an FOI claim to ascertain the price of Australia’s Future Submarine Project, which was later denied by Defence in August of that same year. After seeking an additional review by the Information Commissioner, Senator Patrick was granted the request in August two years later.
It was at this point that Defence appealed the findings through the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT), with Naval joining the legal proceedings.
It can now be revealed, following a Senate estimates question from Senator Patrick in March, that the Department of Defence has reimbursed Naval’s legal costings throughout the process.
“As you know, there are proceedings in the AAT in relation to the total price that Naval Group offered as part of the CEP. I note that the Secretary is represented by the AGS in the matter. I note that Naval Group is represented by barristers, as they are entitled to be. What I want to understand is if the Commonwealth is bearing the cost of their legal feeds under the Future Submarine project, or will those be paid for by Naval Group?” Senator Patrick asked.
“Pursuant to the Strategic Partnering Agreement, Defence is liable for Naval Group’s reasonable and allowable costs in relation to the proceedings,” Defence subsequently replied.
Speaking to the revelation, Senator Patrick alleges that it is unfair to the Australian taxpayer to pay for Naval Group’s legal bills.
“The [independent] Information Commissioner has determined that the information I am seeking – the price that Naval Group offered to sell a fictitious future submarine to Australia for – should be public,” Senator Patrick said.
“It’s concerning that the taxpayer is paying the legal costs of the Defence Department to challenge the Information Commissioner’s order to hand over the information. It’s completely outrageous that the taxpayer is also paying the legal costs for Naval Group, a commercial entity with a 3.3 billion euro turnover.”