These reforms aim to ensure our government is more transparent and accountable. Under the new law, state and local government agencies are proactively releasing more information than ever before to the public.
The GIPA Act applies to all NSW government agencies, including local councils, state-owned corporations, Ministers and their staff.
How to Access Information?
There is certain information prescribed in the GIPA Act which is available on Council's website. Other information is available by request over the counter, free of charge.
Public Documents under GIPA Act
Apart from the information listed above, Council has a range of other information which can be accessed subject to a public interest test.
Files and Information stored on computer (Informal Release)
The majority of this information is available by completing the Informal Access Request form and submitting it to Council for processing. This process may take a few days to a week depending on the type of information being sought and its availability.
Generally you will need to attend the Council's Customer Services Section, Level 4, Administrative Building, 31 Victor Street, Chatswood to view this information. Access to this information may be by a hard copy file or on a computer screen.
Whilst there is no application fee for an Informal Access Application, there are charges if Council needs to retrieve the files from an off-site storage location or if photocopies are requested.
Generally, files that are older than 10 years are kept off-site at the Government Records Repository.
Development Applications on Notification
If you have received notice that a development application has been lodged with Council which could affect your property, you may view the application (including plans and associated documents) to assess its impact and determine whether you wish to make a submission. All submissions will be taken into account when the Council's Assessing Officer considers the application.
These documents may be viewed in two ways:
1. on Council's website under the DA online enquiry section, or
2. at the Customer Services Counter of the Administrative Building.
Letters of Objection
Letters lodged in response to the Development Application notification process will be made available to the public including the applicant. The only exception would be in the case where a correspondent specifically requests that their details be kept confidential in accordance with Section 739 of the Local Government Act (Protection of Privacy).
Details of objections/submissions lodged regarding Development Applications are included in reports to Council and therefore appear in the Council Business Papers with names deleted.
The notification letter inviting submissions re Development Applications specifically informs people that letters of objection will be publicly available in accordance with the provisions in the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009.
Letters of Complaint
Council does not disclose the name or address of complainants where a complaint
is clearly made in good faith, AND
discloses a contravention or possible contravention of the law, for the purpose of enabling or assisting the Council to enforce or administer the law, OR
it is clear that the life or physical safety of the complainant could reasonably be expected to be endangered.
In the interest of natural justice, Council will allow the person about whom the complaint refers access to the substance of the complaint subject to the complainant’s identity remaining confidential.
Formal Access Applications
In some cases it may be necessary for a formal access application to be submitted because the information being sought is subject to public interest issues. In these cases, Council may provide the information subject to the deletion of certain confidential information/documents.
If you need to make a Formal Access Application, you will need to:
pay the prescribed fee of $30 ( Note: there is provision for some discount of processing fees)
provide sufficient detail to enable Council to determine what information is being sought
provide contact details in case we need to clarify the information provided
Council is required to deal with a Formal Access Application within 20 working days of its receipt. This time may be extended by 10 - 15 days if Council is required to consult with third parties.
Forms of Access
Access to information under GIPA can be provided by inspection of files/documents, provision of a copy, access to a computer screen to view documents, access with facilities to read, view or listen, or by providing a written transcript.
Restrictions on the Provision of Copies
Copies of third party letters will not be permitted without the consent of the author.
Similarly, copies of private residential house plans will not be permitted without the consent of the owner of the dwelling.
Plans and documents prepared by professional consultants, authors and draftsmen for a fee will, in most instances, be covered by copyright. Therefore, they cannot be copied without the approval of the copyright owner.
The person requesting the copies should endeavour to obtain permission from the copyright owner to reproduce the document.
Section 57 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Regulation 2000 provides an indemnity in circumstances where the copyright over documents lodged in support of a development application is owned by someone other than the applicant.
An applicant submitting a Development Application gives an implied licence to the Council to copy documents associated with the application for use in accordance with the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act. Associated documents referes to plans, traffic studies, engineering and consultant reports, environmental impact statements and the like.
Appeals against formal access decisions
If you are dissatisfied with the decision made by Council in a Formal Access Application, you have a right of appeal. There are three avenues of appeal - internal review, Information Commissioner review and external review by the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
You can apply to the Council for an internal review. This is a review by someone more senior than the original decision maker and there is a $40 fee. You have 20 working days from receiving notice of a decision to ask for an internal review.
Review by the Information Commissioner:
If you are not satisfied with the internal review, or do not want one, you can ask for a review by the Information Commissioner. You have eight weeks from being notified of a decision to ask for this review.
Review at the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal:
If you are not satisfied with the decision of the Information Commissioner or the internal reviewer or if you do not want to take these options, you can apply to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT). If you have already had a review by the Information Commissioner, you have four weeks from notification of the decision to make this application. If you haven’t had a review by the Information Commissioner, you have eight weeks from notification of the decision to make this application.
The GIPA Act provides for the appointment of an Information Commissioner to oversee the implementation and operation of the Act. The Commissioner is responsible for leadership, advocacy and support to assist members of the public and the agencies (such as councils) dealing with the new legislation.
If you have any queries or would like further information, you may contact the Information and Privacy Commission NSW:
Information Guide & Disclosure Log