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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

No bar to disclosure of public servant's routine work information

Public access to information about work related matters concerning a public servant and the extent to which this raises exemption or grounds for refusal issues concerning disclosure of  personal information is always a freedom of information matter of interest-well, mainly to public servants of course.

These issues arose in a recent Queensland Right to Information Act review by Assistant Information Commissioner Henry (The Amanda Flynn Charity Ltd and the Crime and Misconduct Commission). The precise nature of the information in dispute is unclear other than it concerned a person's employment in the public sector. 

Assistant Information Commissioner Henry decided the information was not exempt  and disclosure would not be contrary to the public interest, drawing a distinction between routine and non routine personal work information:
22. The routine personal work information of public service officers is personal information within the meaning of the RTI Act, however, the potential harm that could be caused by its disclosure is, in most circumstances, minimal or nonexistent. This is due to a number of factors including:
  • the requirement that government departments be open and accountable in their operations
  • that public service officers are employed in the business of government which delivers services to the public and the public is generally entitled to know the identity of the service deliverers, advice givers and decision makers
  • the publication of public service officers' appointments in the Government Gazette; and
  • that a reasonable public service officer would expect that information that is solely their routine personal work information would be made available to the public.
The commissioner concluded [23]:
  • disclosure of the Information in Issue could reasonably be expected to enhance the accountability of the CMC (in respect of its human resource practices and its adherence to merit and equity principles in recruitment) and this factor favouring disclosure should be afforded moderate to significant weight in the circumstances
  • given my finding that the Information in Issue comprises routine personal work information, the factors favouring nondisclosure should be afforded little or no weight in the circumstances
  • the factor favouring disclosure outweighs those favouring nondisclosure; and
  • on balance, disclosure of the Information in Issue is not contrary to the public interest under section 49 of the RTI Act.
The public servant involved who was joined as a third party in the proceedings, objected to disclosure submitting the information was personal information and that the RTI application was part of an extended pattern of harassment. Assistant Information Commissioner Henry said the nature of the submissions "is highly sensitive and cannot be set out in these reasons."
However, after taking into account all of the information currently available to me, including the matters set out in Sheridan and my finding that the Information in Issue comprises the third party’s routine personal work information, I am not satisfied in the circumstances of this review that disclosure of the Information in Issue could reasonably be expected to result in a person being subjected to a serious act of harassment or intimidation. [at 29]
In a post last year (which needs a little updating to reflect Commonwealth reforms enacted since) I commented that WA has taken the most sensible legislative approach, one strangely not followed in FOI reform jurisdictions around the country:'s clear that generally names will not be exempt. (In the usual situation) the routine disclosure of information about the names, and positions of government employees in the conduct of public functions is now an important accepted element in the transparency and accountability framework within which government operates in Australia.

The Freedom of Information Act of Western Australia (Schedule 1 Clause 3) provides the clearest statement of the situation. The act provides specifically that matter is not exempt for the purposes of the personal information exemption merely because its disclosure would reveal, in relation to a current or past  officer of an agency, prescribed details relating to the person; the person’s position or functions as an officer; or things done by the person in the course of performing functions as an officer.  Prescribed information (Freedom of Information Regulations Clause 9) includes details of the person’s name; any qualifications held by the person relevant to the person’s position in the agency; the position held by the person in the agency; the functions and duties of the person, as described in any job description document for the position held by the person; or anything done by the person in the course of performing or purporting to perform the person’s functions or duties as an officer as described in any job description document for the position held by the person.
Intimidation, harassment or worse, threat to life and safety understandably change the equation, but the evidence failed to persuade the commissioner in the Queensland case.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Peter,

    Thanks for this valuable information. Here at Sagacious Legal we've been researching this area lately and your blog has proved very helpful. Keep up the great work!


    Sagacious Legal