Matthews and Gold Coast City Council
(310314, 23 June 2011)
Section 67(1) of the Information Privacy Act 2009 (Qld)
Sections 47(3)(b) and 49 Right to Information Act – Grounds on which access may be refused – Contrary to public interest – schedule 4, part 2, items 1, 7, 12 – part 3, item 3, 16 – part 4, item 6
The applicant applied to the Gold Coast City Council (Council) under the Information Privacy Act 2009 (Qld) (IP Act) for access to a complaint made about him.
Council identified six pages responding to the applicant’s access application. After consultation with a third party, Council provided the applicant with full access to four pages, partial access to two pages (the letter of complaint) and refused access to the remaining information on the basis that its disclosure would, on balance, be contrary to the public interest.
On external review, the applicant made submissions including that:
· the opinions, thoughts and assumptions to which he was denied access were about him and he had reason to believe they:
o were of a malicious nature
o were not relevant to the facts of the complaint
o were exaggerated, misleading and false; and
o were defamatory
· he was being denied natural justice and the right to defend himself
· he should be permitted to know comments made about him so that he could defend himself and have the information corrected under the IP Act.
In balancing the public interest considerations, Right to Information Commissioner Mead noted that:
· the information in issue comprised the shared personal information of both the applicant and the complainant and could not practically be separated
· Council had provided the applicant with the substance of the relevant complaint and did not rely on the information in issue in reaching its decision
· with respect to the applicant’s concern that the information in issue may contain defamatory allegations, information comprising a complaint is, by its very nature, an individual’s particular version of events which is shaped by factors including the individual’s memory and subjective impressions, but this inherent subjectivity does not necessarily mean that the resulting account or statement is incorrect, out of date, misleading, gratuitous, unfairly subjective or irrelevant; and
· disclosure of the information in issue could reasonably be expected to have a detrimental impact on the ability of Council to obtain confidential information in future.
After carefully considering all evidence and submissions, Right to Information Commissioner Mead was satisfied that:
· the public interest in safeguarding personal information and privacy, avoiding public interest harm and protecting Council’s ability to obtain confidential information outweighed those factors favouring disclosure of the information in issue in the circumstances of this review; and
· Council was entitled to refuse access to the information in issue under section 67(1) of the IP Act and section 47(3)(b) of the RTI Act, on the basis that its disclosure would, on balance, be contrary to the public interest under section 49 of the RTI Act.