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Monday, September 21, 2009

The Tele on parents (or the Tele's) right to know.

Sydney's Sunday Telegraph took aim yesterday at the NSW Government, asserting parents' right to know details of who is on the s-x offenders register and to access comparative information about school performance. I'm with them on the latter, and on information about how many names are on the register, as any claim that this can't be released for privacy reasons is more than a stretch. However I'm doubtful the good order of society and the well-being of its members- the current standard all-purpose definition of the public interest- would be advanced by disclosure of other details of those who appear on the register. No doubt the Tele is interested, and so are some of the citizenry, but that doesn't mean it's in the public interest for it to be disclosed. The NSW Government clearly made a mess of housing Mr Ferguson, but the mob shouldn't be guarding the barricades in our name, an outcome almost certain to result from disclosure of details of where a person on the register lives.

In any event it's an offence (Section 21E of the NSW Child Protection Offenders Registration Act-CPORA) to disclose information about a registrable person, subject to a number of qualifications listed in the section, notably if disclosure is made "with the consent of the Commissioner of Police given (either generally or in a particular case) for the purposes of ensuring the safety or protection of a child or of children generally", or "is authorised or required by or under this Act or any other law."

Given the nature of the information it would almost certainly be exempt under Clause 12 of Schedule 1 of the Freedom of Information Act- disclosure would constitute an offence against an act other than the FOI Act- despite the qualifiers on disclosure. Under the yet to commence Government Information (Public Access) Act, which will replace the FOI Act early in 2010, the situation will be crystal clear. Section 21E of CPORA is one of 26 overriding secrecy laws listed in Schedule 1 of the GIPA Act for which there will be a conclusive presumption of an overriding public interest against disclosure.The policy debate on that one seems well and truly over. That shouldn't be the case for separate offence provisions that limit newspapers in NSW publishing comparative school performance information drawing from information published by a national public authority.That is plain silly.

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