Over the past two and bit years Clarence Valley Council (CVC), on multiple occasions, has found itself at odds with an independent statutory authority, the Information and Privacy Commission (IPC), which is tasked to “deal with privacy and access to government held information in NSW”.
At the April 26 CVC meeting, CVC’s poor record with the IPC was revisited, however, people who tuned into the live stream would have been none the wiser as to why the Draft Managing unreasonable conduct by complainants Policy V3 (UCC) was singled out from the list of seven draft policies to be placed on exhibition.
Cr Bill Day called the item based on the officer’s recommendation, however, the mayor, Ian Tiley, said he had a clause he’d “like to add”.
“It’s just a safety valve [clause] that I suggest you might like to include,” he said, asking Cr Day if he was “happy with the amendment”.
Cr Day answered, “One hundred per cent.”
The mayor’s suggested amendment read, “With respect to the draft UCC Policy, provide an inbuilt check to ensure that whoever has enacted the powers of restriction has acted fairly and in a reasonable manner, taking into account all of the circumstances.”
Subsequently, an odd ‘discussion’ occurred between Cr Debrah Novak and the mayor during questions on the amendment.
Cr Novak asked, “With regard to point 3, what is an inbuilt check, what does it look like?”
Mayor Tiley: “An inbuilt safety valve.”
DN: “But what’s the practicality of that? Because I’m familiar with … it’s the general manager or whoever it is in charge of that. My understanding is that it is the general manager’s position to call this. So, what is the actual inbuilt check? What is the check?”
IT: “To make sure there is fairness in the process.”
DN “Sorry, follow-up question; I would have thought that whoever was doing that, that that would already have been a given, that they were being fair?”
IT: “It’s the governing body’s prerogative to set policy and to install checks and balances, and that’s what this is intending to be.”
DN: “Thanks Mr Mayor, I understand that, but I don’t understand what the inbuilt check is.”
IT: “Sorry about your failure to understand, but I don’t think I can help you any further.”
Meanwhile, on the eve of the meeting, Lynne and Bob Cairns, who have been at the centre of several disputes with CVC regarding access to documents under the Government Information Public Access Act (GIPA), emailed the result of an IPC review finding to councillors, which concluded that a decision made by CVC’s senior staff was “not justified” and recommended revisiting the issue in order to “make a new decision”.
Specifically, the IPC found that CVC’s redaction of council officers’ names and contact details on the requested documents was inappropriate – the IPC Information Access Guideline 3 (53) states, “…the name and non-personal contact details of a council officer does not constitute personal information under the GIPA Act and needs to be provided.”
Since the April CVC meeting, the IPC has again found in favour of Ms and Mr Cairns, writing on May 5, “The council decided to not provide access to the information requested, citing an overriding public interest against disclosure.
“…The review of the council’s information and decision concluded that its decision is not justified.
“The reviewer recommends the council make a new decision.”
Note: Ms and Mr Cairns’ appeals to the IPC were initiated prior to NSW Information Commissioner Elizabeth Tydd conducting a workshop at CVC on March 29, to “promote compliance by CVC with its obligations under the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 (GIPA Act)”.
Subsequent to the meeting, Ms Tydd was quoted in a CVC media release, welcoming CVC’s “commitment to improving compliance with their obligations under the GIPA Act”.
“I am impressed by the proactive approach to compliance taken by the Council following the recent local government elections,” she said.
“I am confident that over time we will see improved outcomes for the citizens of Clarence Valley and more robust information governance practices by council.”
On each of the matters, the IPC has asked “that the council advise the Applicant and the IPC within 10 working days of the actions to be taken in response to our recommendations”.
However, the IPC’s “review is not binding and is not reviewable under the GIPA Act”.
The IPC advises that “a person who is dissatisfied with a reviewable decision of an agency (CVC in this case) may apply to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) for a review of that decision”.