Farmer uses GIPA application to change decision by Bega Shire Council
The importance of the public’s right to government information was highlighted when a farmer, armed with information obtained through a GIPA application, was able to effect positive change for the Bega community.
In a closed Council session in 2017, Bega Valley Shire Council passed a resolution to cease maintenance of, and responsibility for, two bridges that are located on an access road which crosses private land.
One affected landowner was unaware of the resolution until March 2018, when he received notice from Council that advised him of its decision to transfer maintenance and responsibility for bridges to him. The landowner used these bridges daily to operate his farm effectively, in a variety of ways. The bridges were used to truck in animal feed during times of drought, to deliver fencing and other essential maintenance items for his land, as well as for property access and essential water supplies. Critically, the bridges were integral to protecting the properties from bushfire and had been used to contain a 2018 fire at Yankees Gap, helping to bring it under control and reduce the threat to other properties in the area.
The landowner filed an application under the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 (GIPA Act) for information about the decision arrived at during the closed Council session. Using this information, he was able to form a persuasive argument that was delivered to councillors at a subsequent meeting, when the matter was tabled for further discussion.
The comprehensive rebuttal of Council’s 2017 decision resulted in apologies from three councillors who had voted in support of the motion in the 2017 closed session, including the mayor of Bega Valley Shire. Council’s Director of Assets and Operations brought a further report to Council, which recommended the replacement of one of the bridges with a culvert as well as recommendations to reduce costs for all parties. This reversal of Council’s approach is directly linked to the landowner’s ability to access vital information on the decision in a timely manner.
Right to Know Week NSW runs from 27 September – 3 October 2021 and aims to encourage both public sector agencies and members of the public to increase their knowledge of the GIPA Act, and to raise awareness of a person’s right to access government held information in NSW.
NSW Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Tydd, said “This example of a private citizen exercising his right to government information helped to bring about a solution that is beneficial to all parties and the community. It also succeeded in facilitating a higher degree of trust and transparency between the local council and its constituents.”
The Information and Privacy Commission NSW has a range of information access resources for agencies and citizens, more information on the Right to Know Week NSW 2021 webpage.