Central Coast councillors have decided that their privacy is an “overriding public interest reason” why their pecuniary or financial interests register should not go on the Council website for public consumption.
The decision to keep the register off the website went through unremarked and undebated at the October 28 council meeting as part of a number of items passed en masse.
The councillors accepted the staff recommendation in the report to simply table the register, which means that the chief executive officer has a copy of it. Staff said that after weighing the public interest considerations, personal information would be an overriding factor against disclosure and would need to be redacted prior to being released to Council’s website.
“This redaction in effect would result in the Returns being meaningless, as details of addresses of places of residence and other properties owned form part of the type of information which might be relied upon to determine a pecuniary interest. “If that information is removed from the Return, the Return has considerably less value. ”
Council’s Code of Conduct states that the pecuniary interest register must be publicly displayed on Council’s website each year unless there is an overriding public interest reason why they should not go up on the website.
The Government Information Public Access Act (GIPA Act) defines the pecuniary interest returns as open access information which must be made publicly available free of charge on Council’s website, but it also states “unless there is an overriding public interest against disclosure”.
The Local Government Act places specific obligations on councillors, council delegates, council staff and other people involved in making decisions or giving advice on Council matters to act honestly and responsibly in carrying out their functions. Generally, those obligations include the lodgement of disclosure of interest returns, the lodgement of written declarations and the disclosure of pecuniary interests at council and council committee meetings.
The report to Council said that all required returns by councillors, the chief executive officer, other senior staff and those council staff identified as designated persons, had been lodged before the statutory date with the exception of seven staff who were designated persons. “These seven staff are currently on extended leave and will be required to complete a return on resuming their Council duties, ” the report said.
The Council’s Code of Conduct also states that councillors and designated persons must disclose whether they were a property developer, or a close associate of a corporation that is a property developer. The unredacted returns will be available for view only by an application for inspection, as per Council’s current practice. This means that any member of the public can ask to view them. “It should be noted that in the past, Council has experienced very few requests to view the Returns, ” the report says.
Source: Meeting, Oct 28 Agenda item 5.2 Central Coast Council