Suzanne Pattinson and Department of Education (August 2022)
On 11 September 2020, Ms Suzanne Pattinson made an application for assessed disclosure under the Right to Information Act 2009 (the Act) to the Department of Education (the Department). Ms Pattinson sought information relating to the Department’s management of the Rose Bay High School 2016 European School Tour and subsequent investigations. On 14 January 2021, the Department released a decision to Ms Pattinson. It determined to release the information in part, with some information found to be exempt under ss35 and 36 of the Act.
Ms Pattinson applied for internal review and on 4 March 2021 the Department released slightly more information to Ms Pattinson but relied on the same provisions of the Act to exempt the remaining information. Ms Pattinson then sought external review of the Department’s internal review decision. As part of her external review Ms Pattinson sought a review of whether there had been an insufficiency in searching for information by the Department.
The Ombudsman determined that:
- Exemptions claimed pursuant to s35 were varied;
- Exemptions claimed pursuant to s36 were varied; and
- The Department’s search for information was sufficient.
F and Department of Education (June 2022)
F and G are parents of a young son, A, who attended a school run by the Department of Education (the Department). F and G had concerns their son had been subjected to regular bullying by another boy, B. On 15 March 2018, F made an application under the Right to Information Act 2009 for information regarding A’s alleged bullying and the Department’s response to incidents and concerns raised by F and G.
On 14 June 2018, the Department released a decision to F which released some information and found the remainder to be exempt under ss27, 35 and 36. F sought internal review regarding the exemptions applied and disputing that all relevant documents had been located and assessed. On 9 August 2018, the Department released an internal review decision to F. It located and released some additional information, finding the remainder to be exempt for on the same bases as in the original decision. F sought external review, again disputing the exemptions applied and whether the Department had undertaken a sufficient search for information responsive to his request.
The Ombudsman determined that:
- Exemptions claimed pursuant to s27 were affirmed;
- Exemptions claimed pursuant to s35 were varied; and
- Exemptions claimed pursuant to s36 were affirmed.
He also determined that the Department did not conduct a sufficient search for information responsive to F’s request, but had taken appropriate steps to rectify the issues in searching by the conclusion of his external review.
Clive Stott and TT-Line Company Pty Ltd (June 2022)
On 16 March 2019, Mr Clive Stott made an application for assessed disclosure under the Right to Information Act 2009 to TT-Line Company Pty Ltd (TT-Line). He sought air quality monitoring reports in relation to the Spirit of Tasmania I and Spirit of Tasmania II, following the deaths of 16 polo ponies on a truck which travelled on one of the vessels in 2018. TT-Line issued a decision on 9 May 2019 to refuse the majority of Mr Stott’s request on the basis that it considered that:
- the disclosure of the information would prejudice an ongoing investigation into the deaths of the ponies (s30);
- the information contains personal information of a person other than Mr Stott (s36); and
- the release of the information would expose TT-Line to competitive disadvantage (s38).
This decision was upheld at internal review and Mr Stott sought external review of that decision.
The Ombudsman determined that exemptions claimed under ss30, 36 and 38 were not made out and relevant documents should be released to Mr Stott.
Graham Murray and City of Hobart (June 2022)
Mr Graham Murray is a supporter of the proposal to construct and operate a cable car on kunanyi/Mount Wellington in Hobart. On 22 August 2018, Mr Murray submitted a request for assessed disclosure under the Right to Information Act 2009 (the Act) to the City of Hobart (Council). He sought information on a range of issues regarding the cable car project.
On 27 September 2018, Council released a large amount of information to Mr Murray, but refused to assess part of his application under s10 and claimed a further 324 pages were exempt pursuant to ss31, 35, 36 and 39. A second decision was released on 24 October 2018, following consultation under s36(2), and a further part of Mr Murray’s request was refused under s19. A final decision was released on 9 November 2018, which released further information and refused the remaining part of Mr Murray’s request, as there was no recognised list of ‘cable car or anti cable car websites’ to enable the information to be collated. Mr Murray then sought external review of all of Council’s decisions.
The Ombudsman determined that:
- He had no power to review Council’s decision under s10 and it remained unchanged;
- Council’s use of s19 was affirmed;
- Council’s use of section 31 was varied;
- Council’s use of s35 was varied;
- Council’s use of s36 was affirmed; and
- Council's use of s39 was varied.
Todd Dudley and Department of Natural Resources and Environment (May 2022)
Mr Todd Dudley, the president of the North East Bioregional Network Inc., made an application on 18 August 2018 under the Right to Information Act 2009 (the Act) to the Department of Natural Resources and Environment (the Department) seeking information regarding the environmental impact of proposed mountain bike tracks in the St Helens area. The Department located nine pages of information responsive to his request and made a decision on 3 December 2018 to redact parts of the information pursuant to ss35 and 36. Mr Dudley sought internal review and the Department’s internal review decision of 29 March 2019 affirmed its original decision. Mr Dudley then sought external review on the bases that the exemptions claimed were not valid and that there had been an insufficient search for information responsive to his request.
The Ombudsman determined that:
- The Department’s search for information was sufficient; and
- Exemptions claimed by the Department pursuant to ss35 and 36 were not made out.
Simon Cameron and the Department of Natural Resources and Environment Tasmania (January 2022)
Mr Simon Cameron owns a sheep farming property in central Tasmania. Allegations were made against his farm manager by officers of the then Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment, now the Department of Natural Resources and Environment Tasmania (the Department), regarding whether the management of feral deer was in breach of the Wildlife (General) Regulations 2010. This eventually led to the farm manager lodging a complaint against the Department with the Integrity Commission and an investigation by the Department into whether misconduct had been committed by its officers. Mr Cameron made an application in November 2017 for assessed disclosure under the Right to Information Act 2009 (the Act) seeking the investigation report and associated documentation. The Department released a decision on 12 December 2017, finding all 766 pages found to be responsive to the request were exempt from disclosure under ss30, 31, 35, 36 and 39 of the Act. Mr Cameron then sought external review of this decision.
The Ombudsman determined that:
- Exemptions claimed pursuant to s30 were primarily not made out, but some information was validly exempt under s30(1)(a)(ii);
- Exemptions claimed pursuant to s31 were upheld; and
- Some information was validly exempt under ss35, 36 and 39 but the release of the remainder was not contrary to the public interest.
D, E and Tasmania Police (December 2021)
D alleges he was sexually assaulted as a child by an older man, E. E was investigated for gross indecency then later charged with indecent practices between males. He was acquitted at trial. D applied to Tasmania Police for assessed disclosure of information regarding the investigation, as he was seeking to make a civil claim against E. A proof of evidence that included E's record of interview was found to be responsive to D's request. Tasmania Police consulted E under s36(2) when considering whether to release the document. E objected to the release, but Tasmania Police decided that the document was not exempt information under s36 and should be provided to D with certain personal information redacted. E sought internal review of the decision and Tasmania Police affirmed its original decision. E sought external review of Tasmania Police's internal review decision to release the information to D.
The Ombudsman considered E's objections and relevant public interest factors. He concluded that the proof of evidence that included E's record of interview should be released to D in the redacted form provided to E in the Tasmania Police internal review decision.
D, E and Department of Education (December 2021)
D applied for assessed disclosure from the Department of Education (the Department) of information concerning E, who is a former Departmental employee and the alleged perpetrator of child sexual abuse against D. D sought information held by the Department regarding E’s suspension from teaching duties, his subsequent reinstatement and any subsequent complaints. During the assessment of D’s application, the Department located a letter containing E’s personal information which was responsive to the request. The Department consulted E under s36(2), seeking his view on the potential disclosure of his personal information. E objected to the release of the information, but the Department proposed to release it in partially redacted form and maintained this view on internal review. E sought external review on 11 February 2019.
The Ombudsman determined that the exemption claimed by the Department under s36 should be varied, with E’s signature ordered to now be redacted in addition to his address, telephone number and email address. It is not contrary to the public interest to release the remainder of the document to D.
C and Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment (December 2021)
In May 2018, C made an application to the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment (the Department) for assessed disclosure, seeking copies of commercial filming agreements and drone use approved between 1 January 2013 and 21 May 2018 in the Arthur-Pieman Conservation Area. Consultation occurred with the commercial flying agreement applicants under s36(2) and s37(2). Following this consultation, the names and personal information relating to some entities applying for filming were redacted under s36, as well as the personal information of some Departmental staff. C sought external review of this decision.
The Ombudsman determined that the Department’s use of s36 should be varied. Some personal information of contact people listen on the commercial filming applications was validly exempt, but the Department had not discharged its onus under s47(4) to show why the names and Australian Business Numbers of some commercial entities, and the personal information of some Departmental staff, should be exempt under s36.
Patrick Billings and the Department of Justice (November 2021)
Patrick Billings, a journalist with the Mercury newspaper, sought information from the Department of Justice regarding prisoners who had been incorrectly released. The Department located information relating to seven prisoners and released the gender and age of each prisoner, the date of early or late release, the correct earliest release date, the date each prisoner was returned to custody and the Tasmania Prison Service’s assessment of how the errors were made. Offence information relating to the prisoners was claimed to be exempt pursuant to s36 of the Right to Information Act 2009.
Mr Billings sought external review and the Ombudsman determined that offence information relating to prisoners about whom a decision or comments on passing sentence had been published is exempt under s36. Offence information relating to prisoners about whom there were no decision or comments on passing sentence published was not exempt as it did not render the identity of the prisoners reasonably ascertainable and was to be released to Mr Billings.
The Ombudsman reconsidered his decision due to the accidental omission of the opportunity for the Department to provide input on an adverse decision, but did not alter his original determinations following the reconsideration.
Camille Bianchi and the Department of Health (November 2021)
Ms Camille Bianchi is a freelance journalist who sought information from the Department of Health regarding the response to allegations of misconduct from its former employee at Ward 4K of the Launceston General Hospital, nurse James Griffin. The Department released a decision on 22 July 2020 on the 104 pages of information it located responsive to Ms Bianchi’s request, determining that all documents were exempt pursuant to ss35, 36 and 39 of the Right to Information Act 2009. Ms Bianchi then sought external review of this decision.
During the external review process, the Department reconsidered some of its proposed exemptions and located additional documents responsive to Ms Bianchi’s request, which had not previously been assessed.
The Ombudsman ordered that:
* Exemptions claimed by the Department under ss30 and 39 are not made out;
* Some information was validly exempt under s35 but the release of the majority was not contrary to the public interest;
* The personal information of patients, members of the public, Department staff raising concerns about Mr Griffin and Ward 4K staff was exempt under s36, except job titles for Ward 4K staff;
* The personal information of Mr Griffin, except his personal address, telephone number or date of birth, and the work related personal information of other Department staff, union representatives and consultants is not exempt under s36 and is to be released to Ms Bianchi; and
* Some documents were out of scope of the request or publicly available and not required to be released.
Damien Matcham, on behalf of Nigel Matcham, and Department of Justice (WorkSafe Tasmania) (May 2021)
Mr Nigel Matcham suffered a serious head injury while working at the chocolate factory at Cadbury Road in Claremont. His brother, Mr Damien Matcham, applied on behalf of Nigel to WorkSafe Tasmania (part of the Department of Justice) for documentation it held regarding Nigel. The Department released emails, letters, medical certificates, a workplace attendance record and, on internal review, medical reports. However, it decided four statements, each signed by another person working at the factory that night then provided to WorkSafe by the employer, Mondelez Australia Pty Ltd, were exempt in full under s36.
The Ombudsman's office consulted each author of a statement (which the Department had not done). One author opposed release of their statement. The Ombudsman considered the meaning of 'personal information' as defined in s5(1). He found that each statement contained some personal information, but parts of the statements were clearly not personal information. The Ombudsman considered the public interest test under s33 and Schedule 1 of the Act. He found only matter (m) in Schedule 1 weighed, in part, against release of one statement, given its author's objection. By contrast, a number of matters weighed in favour of disclosure (including, in part, matter (m)), given the significant interests of Nigel Matcham in obtaining the statements regarding the circumstances of his injury. The Ombudsman determined the public interest test required disclosure of all four statements in full, so reversed the Department's decision regarding the statements.
The Department made no submission on the preliminary/draft decision under s48(1)(a). It noted that the 'matter dates back to 2017 and the Department now, as a general rule, releases such witness statement [sic] as a matter of course for the reasons outlined in the decision.'
Adam Stanway and Tasmania Police (May 2021)
Mr Stanway sought information from Tasmania Police regarding its classification of the Warwick WFA1 bolt action rifle as a prohibited firearm and membership of its Firearms Categorisation Assessment Committee [FCAC]. Tasmania Police released some information regarding the decision to classify the WFA1 as a prohibited firearm, but claimed other information exempt under s35 or s36. Tasmania Police released information regarding most FCAC members, but not one who it had engaged from another jurisdiction. Tasmania Police decided that member's information was exempt under s34 and/or s36.
During the Ombudsman's external review, Tasmania Police agreed to the release of that member's name and biographic information, after his consent. The Ombudsman therefore determined that information was not exempt under s34 or s36. That had been Mr Stanway's main concern.
Mr Stanway agreed he did not require personal information of FCAC members contained in emails between them, beyond that already released to him by Tasmania Police or by the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Cth). Due to that and s12(3)(c)(i), the Ombudsman was able to finalise the application on the basis of its scope and without determining the exemptions claimed by Tasmania Police pursuant to s35.
Z, C and the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment (March 2021)
In May 2018, C made an application to the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment (the Department) for assessed disclosure, which included a request for copies of commercial filming agreements approved between 1 January 2013 and 21 May 2018 in the Arthur-Pieman Conservation Area. An application Z had made through his media company was found to be responsive to the request and he was consulted under s36(2) and s37(2) by the Department. Z did not object to the release of his commercial filming application but was concerned about the release of an associated email which he did not consider to be in the public interest. The Department decided that the email should be released to C, with Z’s personal information redacted. Z sought an internal review of this decision, which upheld the original decision except for one sentence, which was also redacted. Z then sought external review of this decision. The Ombudsman considered that the Department’s redactions struck an appropriate balance between releasing information about commercial filming agreements approved in public spaces and protecting Z’s personal information. The Ombudsman determined that the email should be released to C in the redacted form provided to Z in the Department’s internal review decision.
X, Y and Tasmania Police (March 2021)
X alleges he was sexually abused as a child by an older man, Y. Y was charged with indecent assault (of a child) but this was discontinued. X applied to Tasmania Police for assessed disclosure of information relating to the indecent assault investigation and prosecution, as he was seeking to make a civil claim against Y. Tasmania Police consulted Y under s36(2) when considering whether to release a transcript of his record of interview and associated signed notes in relation to the matter. Y objected to the release, but Tasmania Police decided that the documents were not exempt information under s36 and should be provided to X with the personal information of Y and other alleged victims redacted. Y sought internal review of the decision and Tasmania Police affirmed its original decision. Y sought external review of Tasmania Police's internal review decision to release the information to X.
The Ombudsman considered Y’s objections and relevant public interest factors. He concluded that Y’s record of interview and associated signed notes should be released to X in the redacted form provided to Y with the Tasmania Police internal review decision. This would not be contrary to the public interest.
Clive Stott and Hydro Tasmania (February 2021)
Mr Stott requested information from Hydro Tasmania ('Hydro') regarding the fault in the Basslink cable which caused it to shut down in 2015. Hydro released some information to Mr Stott but refused the majority of his request on the basis that it considered that: the information was already publicly available (s12); the work involved in providing the information would substantially and unreasonably divert Hydro’s resources from its other work (s19); or the information was exempt (under a section noted below). Mr Stott sought external review of this decision.
Late in the external review process, Mr Stott agreed to redaction of some personal information relating to personnel internal or external to Hydro. Hence, while the reasons consider exemptions claimed under s36, ultimately a s36 review decision was not required.
The Ombudsman found that:
1. He does not have the power to review a decision under s12 to refuse to provide information which is already publicly available.
2. Hydro had not complied with the requirements of s19 to give Mr Stott a reasonable opportunity to consult with it to refine his request to a form which would not substantially and unreasonably divert its resources. Mr Stott’s request was returned to Hydro to reassess under the Act.
3. Exemptions claimed under s31 (legal professional privilege) should be varied, releasing additional documents to Mr Stott.
4. Exemptions claimed under s37 (information relating to the business affairs of a third party) and s38 (information relating to the business affairs of a public authority) were not made out and relevant documents should be released to Mr Stott.
5. The exemption claimed over a document under s39 (information obtained in confidence) was not made out, but the document was otherwise exempt under s30 (information relating to the enforcement of the law).
Rebecca White MP and Minister Barnett, Minister for Resources, Minister for Building and Construction (January 2021)
The Ombudsman varied the Minister’s decision, determining that most of the information in the ministerial briefings was ‘purely factual information’ within the meaning of s27(4) and s35(2). As such, that information was not exempt and should be released to the applicant. A table overview of [then] ‘current prosecutions and significant investigations’ under the Work Health and Safety Act 2012 was now no longer: current; nor exempt under s30.
The Ombudsman agreed that some information was exempt under: s26(1)(d); s27; or (after applying the public interest test, only the name of the mother of a deceased worker) s36.
T and Tasmania Police (June 2020)
T sought information in relation to her complaint to police about an alleged abuser. Tasmania Police processed the request and found most of the information to be exempt. This was mainly on the basis it involved information relating to the enforcement of the law, information subject to legal professional privilege, internal information, or personal information of other people. The Ombudsman considered the decision of Tasmania Police and, while mostly upholding it, held that some further information should be released to T.
George Lane and Tasmania Police (April 2020)
Dr George Lane is a scientist who had been undertaking some consultancy work for which he ordered equipment from China. Tasmania Police was alerted to a parcel potentially containing glassware consistent with drug manufacture. A search warrant was issued and Dr Lane's property was searched. He sought information from the Police Service relating to the incident. Tasmania Police exempted much of the material as it related to the enforcement of the law, or for other reasons such as internal deliberative and personal information. While most of the information remained exempt, the Ombudsman made some variations to the Police Service’s decision.
Louise Grahame and City of Hobart (March 2020)
Louise Grahame ran a stall at the Salamanca Market. Conflict between Ms Grahame and a number of other stallholders saw complaints made to the Council, which manages the market, by other stallholders about Ms Grahame. She sought copies of these complaints and emails relating to her and the market. The Council released a large amount of information but exempted in full or part various documents it claimed were internal deliberative information or information obtained by Council in confidence. It also redacted some personal information. The Ombudsman determined that most of the information was not exempt, including the identities of stallholders who had made complaints about Ms Grahame. While the latter was personal information, the public interest, including reasons of procedural fairness, entitled Ms Grahame to know the identities of those who had complained about her. However, a complainant's argument that their telephone number and personal email address were exempt information was upheld.
Richard Webb and Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water, and the Environment (January 2020)
Mr Webb sought information from the Department in relation to the development proposal on Halls Island, Lake Malbena. The request sought a range of information that primarily included some leases for Halls Island and some documents to the relevant Minister.
One of the core parts of this review was whether or not the two leases sought for Halls Island was information obtained in confidence as claimed by the Department. The Ombudsman overturned this in full on the basis the Department's own lease documents could not constitute information obtained in confidence that, if released, would impair its ability to obtain similar information in the future.
Graham Gourlay and UTAS (December 2019)
At the time of the request for information, Mr Gourlay was a student at UTAS. He had applied to the ethics committee for approval to undertake some research. The approval was denied. Mr Gourlay sought the names of the members of the ethics committee. The University denied this claiming it was exempt information under s36 and that the public interest test did not support its released. The Ombudsman overturned this decision.
Michael Atkin and Tasmania Police (October 2019)
Mr Atkin, an ABC journalist, submitted a request to Tasmania Police seeking information in relation to the gun trafficking trade in Tasmania in February 2015. Nearly 300 pages of information were claimed exempt under a range of different sections given the sensitivity of the information. The application of the various sections was largely supported by this office with a few minor changes to Tasmania Police’s decision.
Bryan Green MP and Department of Treasury and Finance (July 2017)
The applicant sought information about briefings the Department had prepared in relation to GST distribution as a result of the Australian Government budget. On review the Ombudsman affirmed that much of the information was exempt under s27, s35, and s36 of the Right to Information Act 2009 and that it was contrary to the public interest to disclose this information. Despite the claims of the Department, names of staff who had prepared and cleared the briefings were not maintained as exempt.
Richard Baines and Department of Health and Human Services (June 2017)
The applicant sought information about a for-profit residential care provider, including payments made to it by the Department. On review the Ombudsman affirmed that much of the information was exempt under s27, s35, s36 and s39 of the Right to Information Act 2009 and that it was contrary to the public interest to disclose this information. Despite the claims of the Department, no information was found to be exempt under s37. However, some information was to be disclosed, including payments made by the Department to the provider, subject to redaction of identifying personal information, as well as factual information contained in information which might otherwise be exempt under s27(1) or s35(1) of the Act. The Department submitted that certain information could not be disclosed by virtue of either s16, s103 or s111A of the Children, Young Persons and their Families Act 1997 Act but the Ombudsman was not generally satisfied of this, considering that the Department was taking too broad a view of the purpose of that Act, although some information was found to be subject to s111A and was not to be disclosed.
A and Tasmania Police (March 2017)
The information at issue was whether the will of the applicant’s late parent should be disclosed to them. This decision discusses the requirements of s36 (personal information of a person) of the Right to Information Act 2009 and the intersection it has with the Wills Act 2008. As these Acts appear at face value to contradict each other, the issue of implied repeal by later statute is also considered.
Michael Atkin and Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water, and the Environment (March 2017)
Mr Atkin (a journalist with the ABC’s 7.30 Report) requested information concerning a third party’s mussel enterprise, including personal information. The Ombudsman determined that the remaining undisclosed information was exempt in accordance with s27, s35 and s36 of the Right to Information Act 2009. On considering the public interest, the Ombudsman found that the s35 information should remain exempt, whist in the unusual circumstances of this case, it was not contrary to the public interest to disclose the personal information in question.
Timothy Kirkwood and Tasmanian Planning Commission (February 2017)
Mr Kirkwood (Manager of Southern Midlands Council) requested information provided by a third party to the Commission outside of its usual hearing/determination process. The Ombudsman was satisfied that any such information held in respect of the third party related to the Commission’s ‘official business’ and hence was subject to the Right to Information Act 2009. However, all such information was exempt under s36 and it was contrary to the public interest to disclose this.
The decision also explored the interplay between information ‘otherwise available’ under s12(3)(c) of the Right to Information Act 2009 and information (written evidence and submission documents) subject to an obligation to be made public under s12 of the Tasmanian Planning Commission Act 1997.