FOI – Freedom’s just another word for ‘nothing here to see’

Newcastle NSW foreshoreThe agency which plans to remake Newcastle, UrbanGrowth, refused to produce key documents to Greens MP David Shoebridge under Freedom of Information laws because they said they aren’t required to produce “documents” but only “information”. This bizarre legal obstruction was only stopped when they were threatened with legal proceedings on the basis that the documents were being sought to get the information contained in them.

Read the Newcastle Herald article here – UrbanGrowth stonewalling over East End plans

Greens MP and Hunter Spokesperson David Shoebridge said:

“Urban Growth has responded to a routine freedom of information request with deliberate, obstructionist nonsense.

“I’ve been making these applications for almost 5 years and this is the most ridiculous argument that a government agency has used to avoid producing documents. Did they really need to be told we wanted the information in the named documents?

“Freedom of information in NSW is designed to make government agencies transparent to the public. Urban Growth is about as transparent as a brick.

“If they use these specious arguments when MPs are seeking access to documents you can only image the rubbish they roll out when the general public tries to get things out of them.

“If it wasn’t serious it would be funny, in fact reading their answer afresh and seeing their mind-numbingly bureaucratic response you have to laugh, otherwise you cry,” Mr Shoebridge said.

If you have the strength to see at first hand just how obstructionist a bureaucrat can be, you can see the exchange with UrbanGrowth here:

  1. GIPA Application to UrbanGrowth – David Shoebridge
  2. UrbanGrowth response to “invalid” application – 29 May 2015
  3. David Shoebridge’s email response to UrbanGrowth – 29 May 2015
  4. UrbanGrowth response to (same) “valid” application – 4 June 2015

What’s GIPA?

The Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 (GIPA Act) is the NSW version of ‘freedom of information’. The guiding principle is public interest. It is generally presumed that all government agencies will disclose or release information, unless there is an overriding public interest against doing so. Under the GIPA Act it is compulsory for agencies to provide information about their structure, functions and policies, and agencies are encouraged to proactively and informally release as much other information as possible.

The GIPA Act:

  • authorises and encourages the proactive release of information by NSW public sector agencies
  • gives members of the public a legally enforceable right to access government information
  • ensures that access to government information is restricted only when there is an overriding public interest against releasing that information.

For more information, head to the Information and Privacy Commission’s website.

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