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IPC slaps down CVC’s transparency decision

Geoff Helisma

The NSW Information and Privacy Commission (IPC) has highlighted Clarence Valley Council’s failure to comply with its direction to make councillors’ and staffs’ annual disclosure of interest returns accessible to the public online.

The statement points out that three local councils – Gosford City, Mid-North Coast and Clarence Valley – have “publicly stated their intention to adopt practices that appear to offend the requirements of the GIPA Act and Guideline 1”.

Information Commissioner Elizabeth Tydd said in an IPC statement: “The interests required to be declared by councillors and senior decision makers, includes business interests.

“Declarations of business and pecuniary interests are a demonstrably effective tool in preventing corruption and promoting integrity.

“These are strong factors in favour of disclosure, particularly in the local government sector where decisions impact the everyday lives of people.

“Those factors must be balanced against factors against disclosure including privacy.

“However, declarations of business interests will not necessarily disclose any information impacting personal privacy.

“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.

“It is important to stress that the guideline was developed in consultation with the NSW Privacy Commissioner.”

At last weeks’ November 26 CVC meeting, councillors Lysaught, Ellem, Kingsley, Baker, Williamson and Simmons voted to only make the declarations available upon request at the Grafton and Maclean council offices.

Previously, citizens could only view them upon request at the Grafton office in the presence of a staff member.

During questions before debate on the matter, general manager Ashley Lindsay advised councillors that the recent Local Government NSW conference had resolved to support a motion by Mid-Coast Council, which “strongly objects to the [disclosures] … being published on any website … and urges relevant authorities, including but not limited to, the Office of Local Government/IPC and ministers to reverse the Information Privacy Commissioner’s requirement”.

Hornsby Shire and Bayside councils also raised the issue at the conference.

Mr Lindsay told councillors that “we should support the Local Government NSW motion”.

“If unsuccessful, we can come back and change it and comply,” he said.

He said he “wasn’t aware” of any other councils putting the disclosures online.

During a lengthy debate, Cr Karen Toms argued that the council would be defying government legislation.

The mayor responded by saying it “may not be legislation” and that he “thinks there is some doubt … so I intend to vote for” not uploading the disclosures to the CVC website.

However, he said “if becomes clear to me in next day or two [that it is legislation] I’ll support a rescission motion”.

The mayor and the general manager were not available for comment when the Independent called on Monday.

The IPC issued the statement on Friday November 29.