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Sunday, March 18, 2007

NSW Tribunal decision: an FOI first

The NSW Administrative Decisions Tribunal has made its first decision exercising powers to require disclosure of a document containing information otherwise found to be exempt under the Freedom of Information Act.

Acting Deputy President Handley in Retain Beacon Hill High School Committee v NSW Treasury (2007) NSWADT 55, found that information in documents that disclosed the valuation and purchase price for the land and buildings of the now closed school should be released.

However this was no giant step forward for transparency and accountability. The purchase price was already in the public domain, the proposed sale had fallen through, and the Government has demolished the school buildings, meaning any future sale will be a completely different proposition.

Deputy President Handley decided not to exercise his discretion to disclose other exempt documents containing information about projected infrastructure and development costs, and government processes concerning the valuation of assets, as this could have adverse consequences for proper administration. This despite the fact that he said he was
"satisfied that there was a strong public interest in obtaining as much relevant information as possible concerning the operations of government in relation to the closure of (Beacon Hill High School) and the sale of the building lots".
Well, at least it's a start following the Supreme Court decision that the Tribunal has such powers.

Deputy President Handley ruled that the public interest is a relevant matter in deciding whether the discretion in favour of disclosure should be exercised. A submission from the Crown Solicitor's Office on behalf of the Department that the discretion might not apply in the case of Cabinet documents, was rejected.

A fuller account of the Retain Beacon Hill High School Committee's efforts to obtain information about the decision to close the school is contained in Matthew Moore's "What they won't tell you" column in the Sydney Morning Herald on Thursday.

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