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Presentation: Jim Bright on sale of Moruya Racecourse

SALE OF MORUYA RACECOURSE

ESC Meeting – 27/9/2019

My name is Jim Bright. I’m here today to address an issue associated with the proposed sale of the Moruya Racecourse.

Let’s start by being clear about what is happening here.

One NSW government body – Racing NSW – has approached another NSW government body – the ESC – proposing that a Eurbodalla community asset – the Moruya Racecourse – be transferred to the ownership of Racing NSW. Racing NSW is offering to pay our community a sum of money in exchange for that transfer of ownership.

The relevant Staff Report in the agenda papers relating to this matter indicates that the amount of compensation that is being discussed between the ESC and Racing NSW will not be revealed to our community.

In this regard, I note that, on page 59 of the agenda papers, the reason given in the Staff Report for this council rejecting community requests for the public release of this bit of information is that Racing NSW “has confirmed that it wishes the sale price to be confidential”.

This is an unsatisfactory reason in the context of the legislative and policy framework in which this council – a NSW government body – is expected and required to operate.

The first port of call in relation to such matters is the NSW ‘freedom of information’ legislation that was passed by the NSW Parliament in 2009. (That is, the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009.)

This won’t be the first time that I’ve brought this council’s attention to the relevant points made by the (then) Premier in his ‘second reading’ speech in 2009 in support of the passing of that legislation.

“Members of the public should be able to have access to the widest possible range of information to give them confidence in Government decision making.”

“The public’s right to know must come first.”

“Our public sector must embrace openness and transparency and governments must forever relinquish their habitual instinct to control information.”

What this State’s ‘freedom of information’ scheme requires of the council is that all information held by it should be released unless the council is able to establish an over-riding reason, within the terms of the legislation.

What is required therefore of the council, before it decides whether or not to release information to the community, is:

· is there some reason, within the terms of the FOI Act, why it would not be in the public interest to release the information, and

· even if there it is possibly to identify such a reason, on balance does that particular reason outweigh any public benefits that might flow from the release?

There is no indication in the Staff Report that that process has been undertaken before deciding not to release information about the sale price. (I would point out that, in regard to the identification of any consideration against disclosure, the “wishes” of another government body is not one of the criteria specified in the FOI legislation.)

What we have here are two NSW Government bodies discussing the transfer of ownership of a particular publicly owned asset for an agreed transfer fee. Neither of these organisations are businesses involved in commercial profit making activities. Both are required by law to act in the over-all public interest.

Against that background, there is not an immediately obvious reason why public disclosure of the proposed transfer fee would be able to be established as being detrimental to the public interest within the terms of this State’s FOI legislation.

The proposed transfer fee is obviously a very significant component of this proposal and therefore should be made available for consideration and comment by members of the public unless there is a clear ‘public interest’ case to the contrary.

In these circumstances, councillors should be requiring that one or both agencies put forward a valid case for why there is an over-riding argument against public disclosure before they endorse the sale of this significant community asset.

Council's red tape revealed to be polka-dotted with a big hole you can coax a horse through

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