THE Information and Privacy Commission has recommended the Department of Education review its decision to refuse access to documents about the Newcastle Education Precinct.
A Newcastle Herald investigation published in June revealed that the business case for the precinct - which involves upgrading Newcastle High and building a new primary school - has not been finalised, nor submitted to Cabinet or the NSW Treasury for funding allocation, two years after it was announced.
The Herald obtained a copy of a draft masterplan from August 2018 that showed the government was considering relocating Newcastle High to a parcel between National Park, Parry and Smith streets.
The Herald applied to the department under the Government Information (Public Access) (GIPA) Act 2009 in February for 'reports and assessments relating to the creation of the precinct, including a funding estimate, source and timeline; student demand forecast and the new primary school'.
School Infrastructure NSW refused to release the information, which included two service needs reports, two preliminary infrastructure plans, a draft masterplan document, four engineers reports and a feasibility study from last August. It said the two plans contained Cabinet information and all the documents "contain information that could reasonably be expected to prejudice the functions or deliberative processes of the department if it is released to you".
It found there "exists an overriding public interest against disclosing the documents".
The Herald appealed to the commission, which said a review of the department's "information and decision concluded that its decision is not justified".
"The reviewer recommends under section 93 of the GIPA Act that the [department] make a new decision by way of internal review," it said.
The commission said it encouraged the department to consider that "disclosure could reasonably be expected to promote open discussion of public affairs, enhance government accountability or contribute to positive and informed debate on issues of public importance" and "disclosure could reasonably be expected to ensure effective oversight of the expenditure of public funds".
The department said it intends to make a new decision, due September 16.
Newcastle MP Tim Crakanthorp welcomed the recommendation. He had used Budget Estimates to receive updates, as well as called for papers in the Legislative Council and Legislative Assembly, but said details about funding and timelines were not forthcoming.
"While the government continues to use its numbers in Parliament to block the release of documents there, I'm pleased that the Information Commissioner has seen through their games and made a common sense decision," he said.
"This precinct has been shrouded in secrecy for too long and if the government thinks we'll just give up then they're in for an unpleasant surprise."
While you're with us, did you know the Newcastle Herald offers breaking news alerts, daily email newsletters and more? Keep up to date with all the local news - sign up here
IN THE NEWS:
- NewRun 2020: H Events confirms Hill 2 Harbour and other races won't go ahead amid coronavirus
- Newcastle East Public School asked to confirm policy on travel to Sydney during COVID
- Three new cases of COVID-19 confirmed overnight
- The impact of COVID is being felt in Hunter medical research with many trials stopped or slowing down