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CVC Councillors

CVC stonewalls IPC’s advice

Geoff Helisma|

Five of the valley’s councillors have remained staunch in their opposition to uploading their annual disclosure of interest returns to Clarence Valley Council’s (CVC) website.

Councillors Williamson, Lysaught, Baker, Kingsley and Ellem were unmoved by a NSW Information and Privacy Commission (IPC) statement that called out the councillors’ decision at the November council meeting.

Information Commissioner Elizabeth Tydd said that CVC and two other councils had “publicly stated their intention to adopt practices that appear to offend the requirements of the GIPA Act [Government Information (Public Access) Act] and Guideline 1”.

“The resolutions by councils, as they seek to deviate from clear requirements under the GIPA Act, and justify non-compliance for privacy reasons will be something I consider carefully,” she said.

The mayor, Jim Simmons, and councillors Toms and Novak (Cr Clancy was absent due to illness) supported the failed rescission motion, which was tabled by Cr Toms and co-signed by councillors Novak and Clancy.

During questions before debate on the matter, Cr Baker asked if there was “any legislation” that compels CVC to upload the declarations.

General manager Ashley Lindsay said “there is” and that CVC would have to provide a “reason why the declarations of interest are not provided on the website”.

Councillor Lysaught asked if rejecting the rescission motion would constitute “any formal breach” of regulations.

Mr Lindsay said he had received “a number of correspondences” from the IPC and that they had “already put us on notice to show cause why [the disclosures] were not on the web”.

Councillor Toms argued that CVC was duty-bound to comply with what she said was “legislation” and quoted from the IPC’s Information Access Guideline regarding the “mandatory proactive release” requirements” for “open access Information”.

The guideline and the GIPA Act do, however, provide for exceptions, provided a council can prove uploading the disclosures “would impose unreasonable costs on the council, or if the council determined there was an overriding public interest against disclosing the information”.

Neither of those concepts have been the subject of a councillor decision.

Councillor Toms said she hoped she had “convinced” the other councillors, “now that the Privacy Commission has written to the general manager with a ‘please explain’”.

She said she was “a bit disappointed” that she had not seen the letter from the IPC.

“It should have been shared with councillors,” she said.

Councillor Ellem said there “were nut jobs out there walking the streets or hiding behind computer screens … making threats to public officials”.

“If we are forced to do this … there will be a lot more redactions [in the disclosures] and that will render the process redundant and useless,” he said.

Councillor Williamson said he was “more confused than ever”.

He said that the information should only be available to residents of the Clarence Valley – CVC’s current policy is to make the disclosure available on request in the presence of a CVC officer.

“The IPC [has] written to the general manager,” he said, “… I’m sure the IPC will provide clear instruction to what we should or not do.

“Until we get that formal advice I will not support a rescission motion.”

Councillor Baker said “there has been no new information presented that would make me want to rescind, not at this stage”.

He wasn’t convinced there was legislation compelling CVC to upload the disclosures.

“If there is a legislated request, we should just do it, we wouldn’t need a guideline – the IPC would not need to come to us.”

Councillor Lysaught said he was mainly concerned about ‘designated’ CVC staff, who also have to fill out declarations of interest.

“We have a duty of care to accommodate those not elected,” he said.

Councillor Novak said, “When we are elected we are a [answerable] to the public … and [should] have nothing to hide.”