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Monday, October 08, 2007

NSW Ombudsman 'difficult complainant project' under scrutiny

The NSW Ombudsman has been managing the development of a pilot project about dealing with so called "difficult complainants" and unreasonable complainant conduct.

Perhaps predictably it received a Freedom of Information application for documents concerning its work on the project. The Ombudsman's Office released some documents but refused access to others.

In Cianfrano v NSW Ombudsman (2007) NSWADT235, the Administrative Decisions Tribunal found that documents withheld from disclosure by the Ombudsman's Office were exempt as internal working documents. The fact that the project was not complete was an important factor in deciding that the public interest favoured non disclosure of documents of this kind at the moment. However the public interest factors might well change once the project has been completed.

The Tribunal did not accept on the evidence an alternative argument by the Ombudsman's Office that the documents were also exempt because disclosure would diminish the commercial value of information about a training package being developed as part of the project.

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