Lower Burdekin Newspaper Company Pty Ltd and Burdekin Shire Council; Hansen, Covolo & Cross (Third Parties)
(2003 F0565, 24 February 2004)
Bowtell and Burdekin Shire Council; Lower Burdekin Newspaper Company Pty Ltd (Third Party)
(2003 F0601, 24 February 2004)
Williams and Burdekin Shire Council; Lower Burdekin Newspaper Company Pty Ltd (Third Party)
(2003 F0602, 24 February 2004)
The applicant for access sought information about the salary packages of five Council employees. Two of those employees pursued 'reverse FOI' applications, objecting to the Council's decision to disclose certain information relating to their salary packages.
The documents in issue recorded:
(a) the position title of each officer;
(b) the total cost of each officer's 'All Inclusive Salary Package' for the 2001/2002 financial year (plus a footnote clarifying the components of the salary package);
(c) the total operating costs of the organisational unit relevant to each officer; and
(d) the cost of each officer's package as a percentage of the total operating cost of the relevant organisational unit.
The Deputy Information Commissioner found that information which would disclose the income of the Council officers was properly to be characterised as information concerning the personal affairs of each officer under s.44(1) of the FOI Act; however, the information about the total operating costs of organisational units of the Council did not concern the personal affairs of any individual and was not exempt under s.44(1).
Applying the public interest balancing test incorporated within s.44(1), the Deputy Information Commissioner decided that, while there was a public interest in protecting the privacy of each of the Council officers in respect of their salary package information, on balance, the public interest favoured disclosure of the gross cost of salary and benefits paid to the Council officers. Decisions of tribunals applying the FOI legislation of other states supported this approach. The Deputy Information Commissioner observed that the public had a strong, legitimate and abiding interest in having access to sufficient information to enable scrutiny of whether funds raised by government, through imposts on the public, are expended efficiently and effectively in furtherance of the wider public interest. That extended to scrutiny of whether the public is obtaining value for money from performance of the duties of the relevant positions for which the government had decided to allocate funding. This public interest is even stronger in the case of senior officers with responsibility for devising and/or implementing strategic and operational plans, and delivering key performance outcomes.
The Deputy Information Commissioner held that the total value of each officer's salary and benefits did not qualify for exemption from disclosure under the FOI Act, although the Council officers could, if they wished, withhold information revealing whether they elected to take particular non-cash benefits available under the Council's salary packaging arrangements.