The Beagle Editor, Fr the interest of your southern readers in the Bega Valley Shire rules of convenience...
Bega Valley Shire Council (BVSC) claims that it “has an objective to provide a high level of open, transparent, responsive & accountable governance” & “aims to be responsive to the needs, interests & aspirations of individuals & groups within its community.”
The Bega Valley Shire Residents & Ratepayers Association (BVSRRA) believes that claim is entirely false & dishonest.
On July 7th, 2017, following the adoption of council’s 2017/2018 Budget, the BVSRRA wrote to BVSC requesting specific information on the changes made to the original draft Budget placed on Public Exhibition. The BVSRRA’s inquiry was prompted by media reports on the adopted Budget, including reported claims by BVSC's Mayor, Cr McBain.
On August 27th, 2017, the BVSRRA published a detailed explanation as to the basis of its concerns in respect of the information published by BVSC & in particular its shortcomings.
A month later, having received no response to its request, the BVSRRA submitted a GIPA Application formally requesting BVSC to provide the information.
After yet another month, BVSC forwarded its Notice of Decision in respect of the BVSRRA's GIPA Application, refusing to respond to its request.
The BVSRRA then wrote to the Information & Privacy Commission (IPC) requesting a review of BVSC’s Notice of Decision in respect of its earlier GIPA Application. Some four months later, on March 22nd, 2018, the IPC published its Review Decision, in which it concluded that BVSC’s decision was not justified & recommending that it make a new decision.
On May 11th, 2018, the BVSRRA finally received BVSC's new Notice of Decision in respect of its GIPA Application & notwithstanding its high-minded claims to the contrary, BVSC’s general manager confirmed the value of council’s commitment “to provide a high level of open, transparent, responsive & accountable governance” by confirming that it would not provide the information, because “Council is not required to publish the information you have requested”.
The BVSRRA then requested the IPC to review council’s latest decision.
In a surprising decision, last week the IPC confirmed that BVSC's refusal to provide the information requested was now "justified".
The BVSRRA is obviously disappointed with the IPC’s decision, in particular as the stated object of the GIPA Act is allegedly to open government information to the public by:
authorising and encouraging the proactive release of information,
giving members of the public an enforceable right to obtain government information, and
only restricting access to government information when there is an overriding public interest against disclosure.
Moreover, while council sought to justify to the IPC its refusal to provide the information requested, because of the great difficulty allegedly involved, only last month it provided much the same information in respect of the 2018-2019 Budget, confirming that it was a relatively straight forward exercise & had involved only three hours of staff time to do so.
Needless to say, this was not the first time that the BVSRRA noted the apparent inconsistency between the stated object of the GIPA Act & the obvious contempt in which it is held by public sector organisations in NSW, including BVSC & other shire councils.
With that in-mind, the BVSRRA last month lodged a formal complaint with the IPC detailing "a pattern of behaviour" it has observed on the part of BVSC & requesting the IPC to investigate that behaviour, which it believes is contrary to the object of the GIPA Act.
While the BVSRRA has no idea how the IPC will respond to its request, it believes that the NSW Government is facing real doubts as to its public commitment to open & transparent government in the lead-up to next year’s state election.
As far as BVSC is concerned, it can rest assured that the BVSRRA will pay particular attention to its audited financial statement for 2017-2018 & will highlight any inconsistencies with claims previously made about the basis of its Budget.
Bega Valley Shire Residents & Ratepayers Association