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Monday, July 14, 2008

NT Commisioner's first but welcome decision on FOI

This must be some sort of world record: The Office of the Information Commissioner in the Northern Territory, almost four years after the commencement of the Information Act, made its first external review decision on an access to information application. The paucity of decisions may mean a couple of things, including that freedom of information is going swimmingly in the Territory. But no matter what, you have to wonder about a review system that received a matter in July 2005 and hands down a decision in March 2008. Are there others in the three year long pipeline?

Notwithstanding, it's a no nonsense decision to grant access to a document that the Office of the Commissioner for Public Employment fought long and hard to protect- a report prepared by a consultant on the investigation and review of a grievance in connection with the applicant's employment at Alice Springs Hospital.

The Acting Commissioner rejected arguments that the report was outside the scope of the Act because it related to the decision making functions of a tribunal, concluding that the process of investigation and consideration did not involve the exercise of any judicial or quasi-judicial function[9-73]; decided that the public interest in disclosure outweighed other factors in considering the status of this deliberative process document[74-89]; and found the evidence did not support an argument that disclosure would have a substantial adverse effect on the management of employees[90-107], reveal information communicated in confidence to the agency[108-113] or constitute an unreasonable interference with the privacy of those who spoke to the investigator[114].

Some of the Acting Commissioner's counterparts in other jurisdictions, who seem greatly attached to public interest arguments to support confidentiality, even after the event, in investigative and deliberative processes might find food for contrary thought in this decision.

The Acting Commissioner's summary of the decision has been published in Issue 7 - June 2008 (227kb, PDF) of the Office Newsletter, In Fact. The decision (Collie and the Commissioner for Public Employment) is here

A pity it was three years in the making.

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