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Friday, August 31, 2007

NSW ADT requires Forests to disclose unit pricing

The NSW Administrative Decisions Tribunal has found in favour of an applicant who sought access under Freedom of Information to documents that contain the unit price of pulp supplied by Forests NSW from two regional forest areas in NSW.

In Watt v Forests NSW (2007) NSWADT197, the Tribunal decided that the information, now three years old, would not disclose information that had a commercial value, but in any event any value would not be destroyed or diminished by disclosure; would not disclose information concerning Forests NSW business affairs that would have an unreasonable adverse effect, or prejudice the future supply of information; and disclosure would not found an action for breach of confidence.

On this last point the Tribunal said (paragraphs 147-148) that public authorities subject to the FOI Act could not in effect render a document exempt simply by including a provision in a contract that information would not be disclosed and specifically disagreed with the decision in Fomiatti v University of Western Sydney. We commented at the time that the latter decision didn't seem consistent with FOI law.

The Tribunal went on to say that in any event there was a strong public interest in favour of disclosure, as it would contribute to debate on an issue of significant public interest
"the socio -economic and ecological value of these publicly owned forests and whether the existing operations provide an adequate return to the community from the use of a public resource. An uninformed public cannot usefully participate in that debate".
The decision appears to represent something of a national breakthrough in access to information of this kind. See this earlier post concerning the Tasmanian Ombudsman, and a decision there not to require price information to be disclosed.

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