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Thursday, February 07, 2008

Education none for three to start the year

Three recent decisions by the NSW Administrative Decisions Tribunal also suggest a 'could do much better' for the Department of Education when it comes to managing Freedom of Information responsibilities.

It's worth remembering that the Director General at the time of his appointment last year said he had plans to make more information publicly available. But if as seems likely these two cases are the tip of a rather large iceberg, things aren't going well in the FOI field.

In this case concerning an application for an audit report requested in May 2006, the Tribunal made an extremely rare order for the Department to pay the applicant's costs because of the Department's handling of the matter had unreasonably delayed Tribunal processes. There is a long litany of failure to comply with requirements to respond to correspondence, to directions by the Tribunal on preliminary matters, and on one occasion the Department failed to turn up to a hearing. Despite the Department's readiness to continue to argue for the exemption of the report, the Tribunal did not have to make a decision on its status, as the applicant had obtained a copy as a result of a summons in separate industrial relations proceedings.

In another the Department failed to produce evidence to the Tribunal in support of its submission concerning the exempt status of some of the documents in dispute, and didn't seek to argue the case, leaving the Tribunal no alternative but to order disclosure. The Tribunal in addition concluded that two of the documents it found to be exempt should be released in the exercise of its override discretion.

In a third case the Department lost another argument about its refusal to amend documents when the Tribunal rejected arguments that information about the applicant's conduct was not 'personal affairs' information.

All in all not a great start to 2008 for the FOI team at Education.

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