Key published decisions applying Section 47(1)(a) FOI Act
The applicant sought access to information concerning the grant of financial assistance by the State, to the third party Berri Limited, under the Queensland Investment and Incentive Scheme (QIIS). The Department of State Development (Department) refused access to some relevant matter under a number of provisions, including section 47(1)(a) of the FOI Act. Specifically, the relevant matter consisted of the dollar amount of financial assistance given to the third party and a memorandum about the third party’s business activities.
Could disclosure reasonably be expected to have a substantial adverse effect on the ability of government to manage the economy of the State?
The Information Commissioner was satisfied that disclosing the relevant matter could not reasonably be expected to have a substantially adverse effect on the ability of government to manage the economy of the State because:
- three years had passed since the financial grant to the third party 
- the Department is free to negotiate each application for financial assistance on its own merits and would not be bound to follow previous grants offers 
- it was mere speculation that investors would be discouraged from investing in Queensland 
- while there could be situations where grant information should be secret for a time to ensure that other States cannot out-bid Queensland for investment projects, the present case was not such a situation. [115-116] It was also noted that there are a number of other factors that influence an investor’s decision to invest in Queensland. 
The Information Commissioner found that disclosing a memorandum concerning the business activities of the third party could not reasonably be expected to have a substantial adverse effect on the ability of government to manage the economy of the State because the contents of the memorandum were already available in the public domain. 
Would disclosure, on balance, be in the public interest?
The Information Commissioner acknowledged it was necessary to balance the public interest in ensuring that government agencies are able to operate as effectively as possible, with the public interest in ensuring political and financial accountability. However he considered there were no reasonably apprehended adverse effects from disclosing the relevant matter. Even if the relevant matter had satisfied the preliminary test for exemption, the Information Commissioner considered the balance of public interest would overwhelmingly have favoured disclosure. However, this was not to say that the balance of public interest might not favour withholding, for an appropriate length of time, details of a different grant, made under different circumstances. 
Accordingly, the relevant matter was not exempt under section 47(1)(a) of the FOI Act.
Last updated: March 5, 2012