Australian Rainforest Conservation Society Inc. and Queensland Treasury
(1994 S0176, 9 April 1996)
This case involved the application of the principles discussed in Eccleston and Department of Family Services and Aboriginal & Islander Affairs (1993) 1 QAR 60 and Trustees of the De La Salle Brothers and Queensland Corrective Services Commission (1996) 3 QAR 206, regarding s.41(1) (the deliberative process exemption). The matter in issue consisted of parts of formal minutes of meetings of a Charter Preparation Committee (CPC) established under the Government Owned Corporations Act 1993, and handwritten notes made in the course of the meetings. (The balance of the minutes and handwritten notes had already been released to the applicant.) The CPC was established to prepare a draft Corporatisation Charter for the Forest Service of the Department of Primary Industries. It consisted of 5 government representatives, an industry representative and an external consultant. The Information Commissioner found that all the matter in issue fell within the terms of s.41(1)(a), so that exemption turned on whether, under s.41(1)(b), disclosure of any of the matter would be contrary to the public interest.
The Information Commissioner rejected the contention of Queensland Treasury that disclosure could be expected to reduce the candour and frankness of input from public servants and non-government members of the CPC. The Information Commissioner found that it had not established the particular factual basis for a claim that candour and frankness could be inhibited by (or shown any tangible harm to the public interest which might flow from) disclosure of the advice and opinions given by the professional public servants who were members of the CPC (see paragraph 132 of Eccleston). The Information Commissioner also concluded that there was no evidence which would show that disclosure could be expected to result in any significant number of community representatives or paid consultants, being less likely to seek positions on similar committees in the future, or being less likely to provide full and frank comments to similar committees in the future.
The Information Commissioner further referred to the significant public interest factors favouring disclosure, in terms of enhancing the accountability of government by disclosing the methods and deliberations of the CPC and government members of the CPC, and in terms of promoting informed community debate by providing valuable insights into issues relating to conservation, use and management of forests in Queensland. The Information Commissioner decided that disclosure of the matter in issue would not be contrary to the public interest.