Grey Gulls at Tempe

Gulls at Tempe

On 12th August 2014 I reported on concerns about Marrickville Council’s apparent practice of disclosing to developers identifying particulars of people who make submissions on Development Applications.   See – http://bit.ly/1kADcV1

Marrickville Council then produced a report about its practices of what personal information it discloses to developers.

In a follow up post on 15th September 2014 I reported on a resident’s response to Marrickville Council’s report.  See – http://bit.ly/1y4lwag

The following is a Guest Post by the same resident.

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The reasons for my involvement in this were three :

  1. Marrickville Council’s advertisement of a DA bluntly said that comments received from the community “will not be treated confidentially and may be viewed by the applicant.”   It seemed to me that Council was not allowing for any anonymity and was not proposing that contact details (address or email or telephone number) were going to be treated as confidential.
  1. When I rang Marrickville Council three times about that, I received inconsistent information about Council’s practices and ultimately it was confirmed that Council releases submitters’ contact details, not just the essence of what one may have submitted.
  1. I thought that such practices were contrary to a public agency’s obligations under information access and privacy laws, and more importantly, when the community knows that developers will be able to identify each individual submitter, the community will be discouraged from exercising its democratic right of expressing its views about developments.

Marrickville Council’s report added some new information that was not at play when I responded to the particular advertisement for that particular DA.  Namely, that Council has letters and guidance materials, which are not as blunt as the advertisement.

They seem to say that a person may satisfy the General Manager that there is a need to keep the contact details of a submitter confidential, but only if the submitter provides a statutory declaration that satisfies the General Manager that the submitter’s safety or their family’s safety would be at risk from a release of their personal information. None told me about that when I rang Council.

I then thought and I still think that this is inconsistent with Council’s obligations under the relevant laws.  In my previous guest post I wrote:

“The General Manager is set to decide what identifying information will be revealed to developers for the asking. This is called under the GIPA Act an informal disclosure.  The person who would not want their identifying information revealed will have no appeal rights. The General Manager will be judge and jury. Quite a dictatorial power. And your privacy just gets tossed out the window.”

Marrickville Council’s report highlighted the fact that many other Councils also have confused and inconsistent practices, with the ultimate outcome being that they violate people’s privacy as they please.

The NSW Privacy Commissioner now completed enquiries into Marrickville Council’s practices.   In her letter to Marrickville Council dated 7 November 2014 the Commissioner expressed concerns about Council’s practices.  The letter included the following:

“The Council’s current approach of releasing all information (except the submitter’s address) only where there is a statutory declaration attesting to concern of safety for that person or their family, does not appropriately capture the requirement of the public interest test to be conducted under the GIPA Act by Council prior to disclosing personal or any other information.

Having considered the guidance made available by the Information Commissioner, I am not satisfied that Council’s current approach of publication of all submitters personal information (except where there is a statutory declaration attesting to concerns of safety) is a requirement of the GIPA Act or regulations.

I am also concerned that the current approach adopted by Council in relation to the publication of submitter’s personal information does not take into account the obligations imposed upon councils under the PPIP Act.”   (PPIP Act is the NSW privacy law).

In our times we see many of our rights washed away by governments who think of them as mere red tape.  Our privacy is an important right and as long as we do not say offensive things our anonymity allows us to offer our opinions about issues that concern us without the fear that those who may have different opinions, such as developers in this case, will identify us or obtain our home and contact details.

If a public authority is planning to violate our rights by revealing our identity to developers, as a minimum, we should have the right to say no and the right to appeal to a proper body that will make an impartial decision.

Any revealing of our identity and contact details should be done only when a developer makes a formal application, so that we can have the right to appeal the General Manager’s decision. Anything short of that is dictatorial and causes tremendous harm to us as a collective of people who place our trust in those to whom we grant some powers to manage public affairs on our behalf.

I hope this becomes an example to Marrickville Council, and the other Councils that appear to be just as arrogant in managing our privacy, and I hope that the General Manager takes control of this issue, so that he can adopt the Privacy Commissioner’s recommendation to mend Council’s ways and so that Council staff learn what the law requires of them and cease providing inconsistent and wrong information when people contact them.

End of Guest Post.

Kookaburra

Kookaburra

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