Editorial: IPC Determines Council Unjustified

Filed in Just In by August 26, 2020

THE Information and Privacy Commission has advised Council’s refusal to provide documents relating to the Merriwa-Willow Tree Road were not supported by the Government Information Public Access (GIPA) Act and formally advised Council to reevaluate their decision.

Scone.com.au requested access to the Council documents on July 3 and on August 13 Council advised it was not in the public interest to provide the documents. (Read: Editorial: Merriwa -Willow Tree Road Damage Control).

Since, we believe the documents were firmly in the public interest and Council did not justify why the documents were withheld, we asked for an independent investigation from the Information and Privacy Commission.

The Commission provided their report yesterday and agreed Council did not support their claim to refuse access based on the public interest and Council should now justify their position.

In the report the reviewer made the following determinations:

  • the decision does not demonstrate that the public interest test was applied in the way required by the GIPA Act;
  • As the Agency has not identified any public interest considerations in favour of disclosure, I am not satisfied that, on balance, the Agency has demonstrated an overriding public interest against disclosure exists;
  • The Agency’s approach seems to be of a generalised nature and accordingly does not in my view satisfy the requirements of section 61 of the GIPA Act;
  • The Agency has merely asserted the public interest considerations against disclosure it deems relevant….however it has not evidenced;
  • The notice of decision does not provide any reasoning for how the information sought by the Applicant could reasonably be expected to reveal a deliberation or consultation conducted, or an opinion, advice or recommendation given, in such a way as to prejudice a deliberative process of government or an agency; or prejudice the conduct, effectiveness or integrity of any audit, test, investigation or review conducted by or on behalf of an agency by revealing its purpose, conduct or results (whether or not commenced and whether or not completed).

As outlined in our previous editorial, we speculated Council may be withholding the geotechnical report, not because of the public interest, but because it may contain legally sensitive material and releasing it could be to Council’s detriment.

We put the matter to Council last week and they confirmed “…the matter is currently under investigation the geotechnical report, which is a key piece of evidence, is not available to the public. Such a release would have the effect of prejudicing the investigation and is hence inappropriate.”

So, yes, there is an investigation and the geotechnical report is considered “evidence”.

We’ve asked for more information on what investigations are occurring in relation to this road, who is conducting the investigation and when the results of the investigation will be available…because spending millions of dollars of public money on a road which is now in worse condition than it began and continuing to cost ratepayers and road users more money and more debt…is in the public interest.

We will be continuing to ask what went wrong, why it went wrong, who is responsible and how Council will prevent such a debacle in the future on any matter.



Elizabeth Flaherty

Editor, scone.com.au



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