Two local government exemptions were added to the RTI act through amendments contained in the City of Brisbane Bill 2010. They seem to me to be unnecessary (because sensitive information appears to be adequately protected by other RTI provisions) and unfortunate (because of the breadth of the wording, and the old give an inch some take a mile principle). The reasons really amount to getting rid of a nuisance rather than protecting an essential public interest. The six independent members of parliament voted against - the other 78 from the major parties voted for.
In support of the proposals the Miinister quoted the majority decision of the High Court in the Commonwealth v Northern Land Council in 1993, but you have to be persuaded that the Council Committee warrants the same degree of confidentiality as a cabinet before any of this supports the argument:
"But it has never been doubted that it is in the public interest that the deliberations of Cabinet should remain confidential in order that the members of Cabinet may exchange differing views and at the same time maintain the principle of collective responsibility for any decision which may be made."Further on in the decision the justices say "..the disclosure of the deliberations ... is liable to subject the members of that body to criticism of a premature, ill-informed or misdirected nature and to divert the process from its proper course. The mere threat of disclosure is likely to be sufficient to impede those deliberations by muting a free and vigorous exchange of views or by encouraging lengthy discourse engaged in with an eye to subsequent public scrutiny ... It is not so much a matter of encouraging candour or frankness as of ensuring that decision-making and policy development by Cabinet is uninhibited."
That is why we agreed with the Lord Mayor and have applied a similar provision as applies to our state cabinet to the E&C of the Brisbane City Council."
The breadth of the exemptions and the reasons given certainly raise questions about all this. Not only those six independents in Parliament were unconvinced. A Brisbane Times poll (340 respondents) suggests public opinion is 90% against, even though the question, like the headline referred to above, was a little off the mark.
Poll: Is Brisbane City Council justified in keeping its deliberations secret?