Relevant decisions from other jurisdictions

Re Heaney and Public Service Board [1984] AATA 168

This decision considered the application of the equivalent exemption under Commonwealth legislation. Section 40(1)(e) of the FOI Act (Cth) concerns documents, the disclosure of which could reasonably be expected to have a substantial adverse effect on the conduct by or on behalf of the Commonwealth or an agency of industrial relations. The Commonwealth provision is also subject to a public interest test.

The applicant, the Branch Secretary of the Association of Draughting Supervisory and Technical Employees (Union), sought access to documents revealing correspondence between the Public Service Board (Board) and the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Authority (Authority) concerning the approach to be adopted by the employer in a salary dispute with the Union.

Is there a reasonable expectation that disclosing the matter could have a substantial adverse effect on the conduct of industrial relations by an agency?

The AAT was satisfied that disclosing the communications between the Board and Authority could reasonably be expected to have a substantial adverse effect on the conduct of future industrial relations salary disputes because the Union would be aware of the extent to which either the Authority or Board would be prepared to go in meeting Union demands: [32]

Knowledge of precise disagreements on the management side may well be of use in any future salaries dispute and may facilitate identification of potential weak points in what may otherwise be quire properly presented as a united front. [32]

The fact that the salary dispute had been resolved was irrelevant because the issue could always be revived. [30]

Would disclosure, on balance, be in the public interest?

The AAT was satisfied that the public interest favouring non-disclosure in ensuring the Commonwealth's ability to conduct industrial relations, outweighed the public interest considerations favouring disclosure, namely ensuring that the Board has acted within its lawful authority and discharged its functions competently. [33-34]

Accordingly, the relevant matter was exempt from disclosure under section 40(1)(e) of the FOI Act (Cth).

Last updated: April 20, 2012