Ebber and the Department of Emergency Services
(2004 F0451, 2 December 2004)
Personal affairs – sufficiency of search
The applicants sought access to documents concerning an incident in which they were alleged to have obstructed officers of a rural fire brigade in the course of their duties. The matter in issue comprised the property description appearing on three permits to light fires, and two witness statements by named persons.
Assistant Commissioner Barker found that the three property descriptions (all of private residential properties) were matter which concerned the personal affairs of the owners of those properties. However, AC Barker considered that there was a public interest in disclosure of that matter, as the lighting of fires is a matter of concern to residents in the area. AC Barker found that the public interest in scrutiny of the fire brigade's actions outweighed the public interest in protecting the privacy of the owners on whose properties the burn offs occurred, and that the property descriptions were not exempt under s.44(1) of the FOI Act.
In relation to the witness statements, AC Barker found that the Department did not hold copies of statements by the two persons named in the applicants' request. One of the statements was, and had always been, in the possession of the author's legal representative; the other statement had been made to the Queensland Police Service and not to the Department.