IPC Case Notes - Information Access

The Information and Privacy Commission NSW (IPC) publishes case notes to highlight significant and interesting cases from the IPC's jurisdictions.

See below for case notes relating to Information Access.

IPC case notes are intended to serve public sector agencies and practitioners from the private, government and university sectors. The case notes are current at the date published. IPC case notes are not intended to replace legal advice, which should be sought as appropriate.

Information Access

September 2021
Wojciechowska v Commissioner of Police [2020] NSWCATAP 173
The decision introduces a five-step approach to the Tribunal’s review of an agency’s decision under s. 58(1)(b) that the information sought under the GIPA Act is not held. The decision emphasises that the agency’s familiarity with its record management and retrieval systems generally makes the agency best placed to assess whether the information exists and is held.

September 2021
Christopher v Independent Commission Against Corruption [2021] NSWCATAD 256
The decision confirms that agencies listed in Sch. 2 are not exempt from the operation of the GIPA Act; and that an access application seeking “excluded information” is not valid by operation of s. 43(2) only to the extent that the information sought is prescribed by cl. 2 of Sch. 2. Excluded information under cl. 6 of Sch 1 must be determined in accordance with s.  58(1)(d) if the agency to which the excluded information relates consents to its disclosure.

August 2021
Tallawoladah Pty Ltd v Department of Planning, Industry and Environment [2021] NSWCATAD 248
Where a review is brought by a third-party objector, of a decision to provide access to government information in response to an access application, the burden of establishing there is an overriding public interest against disclosure of information lies on the applicant for review. A mere statement that disclosure could reasonably be expected to have a particular effect is insufficient. There must be real and substantial grounds supporting an opinion that disclosure could reasonably be expected to have a particular effect.

June 2021
McEwan v Port Stephens Council [2021] NSWCATAD 110
The decision recognises the importance of information access rights in the NSW statutory scheme under the GIPA Act and by operation of s. 5 of the PPIP Act. The Tribunal explained that the GIPA Act places a high onus on agencies to provide evidence to override the presumption in favour of disclosure under ss. 5 and 12.  The decision promotes the overriding objective given to public accountability under the GIPA Act, particularly because of the mandate for making “open access information” publicly available. The decision highlights the Tribunal’s view that maintaining a Public Register is of fundamental importance in the public accountability of local councils’ decision-making and the conduct of officers and employees of councils who may be involved in such decision-making.

February 2021
Ruyters v Commissioner of Police [2021] NSWCATAD 41
The GIPA Act and the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979 (Cth) can be read together without offending section 109 of the Constitution. It is only in circumstances where an agency finds that there is no overriding public interest against disclosure that an access applicant must be provided with access to information. If that is the case, then there may be an inconsistency between the provisions of the GIPA and TIA Acts which would require consideration of section 109 of the Constitution.

February 2021
Zonnevylle v Department of Customer Service; Zonnevylle v Secretary, Department of Education [2021] NSWCATAD 35
An application for government information under the GIPA Act is actually received by an agency according to s. 41(3) when an application sent by post arrives, an application is lodged in person, or an email attaching the application is received by the agency’s designated email address. The actual receipt is not determined by whether an agency is able to act upon the application in some way.

January 2021
Miriani v Transport for NSW [2021] NSWCATAD 16
In conducting reviews, the Tribunal is generally not concerned with the motivations of applicants seeking access to government information. The GIPA Act establishes a presumption in favour of disclosure of government information and does not require that access applicants disclose their motivations for seeking access, or the use of that information once obtained. The Tribunal followed the Appeal Panel’s analysis of who holds the burden of proof with respect to decisions that information is not held under the GIPA Act in Wojciechowska v Commissioner of Police [2020] NSWCATAP 257.

October 2020
Ruyters v Commissioner of Police [2020] NSWCATAD 223
Agencies must apply the considerations set out in section 60(3A), and any other relevant considerations for processing applications, when deciding to refuse to deal with an access application pursuant to section 60(1)(a). These considerations must be weighed against the matters in section 60(3B) and must be found to outweigh the general public interest in favour of disclosure of the information, and the demonstrable importance of the information to the applicant.

August 2020
Department of Communities and Justice v Zonnevylle [2020] NSWCATAP 126
An application for government information under the GIPA Act cannot be severed into both valid and invalid parts because an application must comply with all of the requirements in section 41(1)(a)-(e) to be a valid "access application" within the meaning of section 4 of the GIPA Act.

June 2020
Taylor v Destination NSW [2020] NSWCATAD 137
The Tribunal referred the agency to the Information Commissioner under section 111 of the GIPA Act as it was satisfied that the matter indicated a systemic issue relating to the determination of access applications. The Tribunal confirmed that it only needs to find an indication or a possibility that a systemic issue exists, and it is at the discretion of the Information Commissioner, through conducting any investigation or audit, to confirm the existence of the systemic issue.

May 2020
Medlyn v Commissioner of Police [2020] NSWCATAD 125
An agency relying on section 60(1)(d) of the GIPA Act is required to establish that the information in issue is or has been the subject of a subpoena or other order of a court for the production of documents, and that the information is available to the applicant as a result of having been produced in compliance with the subpoena or other order. Where the reason under section 60(1)(d) is established, the agency has a discretion to decide to refuse to deal with an application. 

May 2020
Case Summary on Automated decision making and access to information under the GIPA Act
This case explores the right to access information in the context of automated decision making using software developed  by a contractor supplying services to a NSW government agency. The case highlights the need for vigilance to promote transparency and accountability by government

March 2020
Betzis v Commissioner of Police [2020] NSWCATAD 71
The Tribunal affirmed the agency’s decision that the information in a coronial brief to the NSW Coroner was excluded information under the GIPA Act, and the fact that information may have already been released to the applicant in other circumstances did not change the character of the information as ‘excluded information’.

March 2020
AIG Australia Ltd & NM Insurance Pty Limited v Commissioner of Police, NSW Police Force [2020] NSWCATAD 84
The Tribunal set aside the agency’s decision to not release a certificate of blood sample analysis to the insurer, finding that the insurer’s personal factors and motives for determining an indemnity claim outweighed the significant public interest consideration against disclosure with respect to this personal information.

December 2019
Leydon v Commissioner of Police [2019] NSWCATAD 267
The Tribunal set aside the agency’s decision in part because it considered that the section 55 personal considerations provided compelling grounds for providing access; and the agency’s evidence did not establish the relevant factual matters that explain how the impact of the release of the information would achieve the effects in the various public interest considerations claimed

December 2019
Sneesby v Shoalhaven City Council [2019] NSWCATAD 234
The Tribunal set aside the decision of the agency and made a decision that it provide access to the withheld information sought by the applicant, save for one document subject to legal professional privilege. Before the decision came into effect, the Tribunal made orders allowing third parties who had not been properly consulted under section 54 of the GIPA Act the right to appear and be heard.

December 2019
Jackson v University of New South Wales [2019] NSWCATAD 224
In this decision, the Tribunal considered the University’s claim of legal professional privilege over 269 email chains, in its decision to withhold access to information pursuant to clause 5 of Schedule 1 of the GIPA Act. The Tribunal found that most of the email chains were privileged but found that emails which were consultations for administrative purposes were not subject to privilege.

October 2019
Coleman v Medical Council of NSW [2019] NSWCATAD 207
In this decision, the Tribunal considered an order for costs in proceedings about a reviewable decision under the GIPA Act and found that the respondent did not prolong unnecessarily, the time taken to conduct and finalise the GIPA proceedings. The Tribunal noted the matter involved a large number of documents over an extended time period, and the requirements of clause 1 and 6 of Schedule 1 of the GIPA Act.

August 2019
McDonald v Commissioner of Police, NSW Police Force [2019] NSWCATAD 66
In this decision, the Tribunal referred to the ‘mosaic effect’ and considered whether the applicant was using numerous GIPA applications for information about police complaints with the aim of discovering more than he was entitled to.  

August 2019
Office of Environment and Heritage v Scenic NSW Pty Ltd [2019] NSWCATAP 176
This Appeal Panel decision considered the jurisdiction of the Tribunal to review agency decisions under Part 5 of the GIPA Act. An agency’s acknowledgement to an access applicant of a requirement to withhold access to information pending a third party review is not a decision that is reviewable by the Tribunal.

June 2019
Destination NSW v Taylor [2019] NSWCATAP 123
This Appeal Panel decision confirms that an agency must justify its decision about information it has withheld by applying the public interest test in section 13 of the GIPA Act to the information; and this involves identifying the relevant considerations in favour of and against disclosure, and indicating the strength of each public interest consideration.

June 2019
Sandy v Kiama Municipal Council [2019] NSWCATAD 49
The Tribunal affirmed the decision of the agency to provide access to information by way of inspection, on the basis that to provide a copy of the records containing the information, as sought by the Applicant, would infringe copyright under the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth).

June 2019
DNM v NSW Ombudsman [2019] NSWCATAP 77
This Appeal Panel decision about ‘excluded information’ under clause 2 of Schedule 2 of the GIPA Act confirms that an agency must broadly consider the issue of whether information relates to the excluded information of an agency, which is subject to the conclusive presumption of an overriding public interest against disclosure.  

September 2018
Broadribb v Medical Council of New South Wales [2018] NSWCATAD 213
There is a conclusive presumption of an overriding public interest against disclosure of information relating to the exercise of functions by the Health Care Complaints Commission

August 2018
Whitaker v Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District [2018] NSWCATAD 183
Some public interest considerations favouring disclosure may be significant and merit additional weight in matters where there is an apparent conflict between the conclusions reached in different types of investigations; and claims of confidentiality may depend on the type of investigation undertaken. 

November 2017
Seven Network Limited v South Eastern Sydney Local Health District [2017] NSWCATAD 210
Elements of a person’s gait or body shape in CCTV footage may not be sufficiently distinctive alone to prevent the release of CCTV footage where the face, head, neck and any identifying marks such as tattoos are concealed by pixelation.

August 2017
Zonnevylle v Department of Education [2017] NSWCATAD 101
In establishing that searches for information are reasonable, an agency may demonstrate: the use of identifiers provided by an applicant; that officers conducting searches turned their minds to where that information may be held in the agency; and that search officer declarations have been completed.

August 2017
Turner v NSW Health Pathology, Forensic & Analytical Science Service [2017] NSWCATAD 114
When an applicant has provided identifiers or search terms in an access application or in later discussions with the agency, those search terms or identifiers inform and assist the agency in conducting searches. The Tribunal observed inconsistencies in the Respondent’s reasons for the decision.

April 2017
Pallier v NSW State Emergency Service [2016] NSWCATAD 293
The Tribunal considered the breadth of the public interest considerations for and against disclosure applied to workplace investigation reports, and in doing so found that the balance in favour of disclosing certain aspects of workplace investigation reports may outweigh considerations against disclosure.

April 2017
Commissioner of Police v Danis [2017] NSWCATAP 7 
The Appeal Panel distinguished between preliminary decisions and final decisions under the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 (GIPA Act), and provided guidance in relation to a decision to refuse to deal with an access application under section 60 of the GIPA Act. 

April 2017
Bayne v Department of Premier and Cabinet [2016] NSWCATAD 233
Applicant conducted proceedings in a way that unnecessarily disadvantaged the Respondent. Tribunal found special circumstances warranted an award of costs, and ordered the Applicant to pay the Respondent’s costs of $4,575.35 Bayne v Department of Premier and Cabinet [2016] NSWCATAD 233

April 2017
Page v Southern Cross University [2016] NSWCATAD 199
Discounting processing charges and refusal to deal further with an access application when an advance deposit has not been paid Page v Southern Cross University [2016] NSWCATAD 199

September 2016
Zonnevylle v Department of Education and Communities [2016] NSWCATAD 49 and Zonnevylle v NSW Department of Finance and Services [2016] NSWCATAD 47
The Tribunal dealt with the application of section 112 of the GIPA Act, which enables the Tribunal to refer to the relevant Minister any circumstances where an officer of an agency may be thought to have acted inappropriately with respect to his or her functions under the GIPA Act.

June 2016
Shoebridge v Forestry Corporation [2016] NSWCATAD 93
The Tribunal identified the steps for a decision maker in considering whether the information applied for is of special benefit to the public generally Shoebridge v Forestry Corporation [2016] NSWCATAD 93

June 2016
Abdelaziz v StateCover Mutual Ltd [2015] NSWCATAD 1
The Tribunal considered the language of the GIPA Act to be clear in assisting with a decision that a body is not an agency for the purposes of the GIPA Act  Abdelaziz v StateCover Mutual Ltd [2015] NSWCATAD 1

March 2016
Mino v Legal Aid NSW [2015] NSWCATAD 24 
The Tribunal does not have jurisdiction to require an agency to create a new record or to review an agency’s decision not to include information on its disclosure log Mino v Legal Aid NSW [2015] NSWCATAD 245.

March 2016
Commissioner of Police, NSW Police Force v Barrett [2015] NSWCATAP 68
Whether an agency can substitute a new decision after a review application has been filed, whether in decisions to refuse to confirm or deny an agency is obliged to give detailed reasons and the weighing of considerations when an agency is seeking to refuse to confirm or deny information is held Commissioner of Police, NSW Police Force v Barrett [2015] NSWCATAP 68.

November 2015
Section 110 restraint orders Pittwater Council v Walker [2015] NSWCATAD 34 and Palerang Council, Queanbeyan City Council & Goulburn Mulwaree Council v Powell [2015] NSWCATAD 44
In certain circumstances, public interest considerations favour orders restraining persistent and unmeritorious applications requiring an unreasonable and substantial diversion of resources by an agency.

October 2015
CCB v Department of Education and Communities [2015] NSWCATAD 145
Who is an aggrieved person, what is required to establish legal professional privilege, and can a work health and safety incident form be released to an applicant.

October 2015
National Tertiary Education Union v Southern Cross University [2015] NSWCATAD 151
Whether reviewable decision about imposing processing charge may be made prior to the application being decided.

December 2015
D’Adam v New South Wales Treasury and the Premier of New South Wales [2015] NSWCATAP 61
Distinguishing between 'information' and 'document’ and the assessment of the dominant purpose in relation to Cabinet information.