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THE state government has lost its bid to keep some of its documents about the Newcastle Education Precinct confidential.
As previously reported, the Legislative Council called on November 11, 2020, for papers relating to the creation of the precinct.
The Department of Education presented several boxes of documents on December 2, but many were subject to a blanket claim of privilege.
The department said disclosure would prejudice the commercial interests of third parties and the state.
"The Newcastle Education Precinct is still in early planning, a suitable site has still not been found and therefore any documents that reveal a potential site for the Newcastle Education Precinct is subject to a claim of privilege," it said.
The department said publicly identifying potential sites may "artificially inflate the prices of those locations".
MP Peter Primrose disputed the claim in its entirety on December 4, pointing to the lack of specificity, as well as particular documents said to indicate the location being considered for purchase.
Independent arbiter Keith Mason AC QC was appointed to evaluate the disputed claim and examined the disputed documents with the department's recently suggested redactions.
He deemed a further two letters from the department and one from Mr Primrose also "relevant to the scope of the dispute".
He said the redactions "confirmed my conclusion that none of the documents are relatively privileged".
"In many instances the proposed redactions are so minor as to make it unlikely that anyone with determination would be unable to work out the site involved," he said.
"There are instances where the redaction proposed relates to the very announcement of the project.
In many other instances the proposed redactions have no bearing upon the commercial interests sought to be protected...on the contrary, they would mask information relevant to the objectives of the whole project and the full range of options in play."
Justice Mason said many documents seemed to contain the "very sort of general and comparative information needed to be publicly debated if there is to be any effective oversight by the House".
He also said different copies of the same document had been presented with different proposed redactions, "with the result that there is real uncertainty as to what if any particular piece of information is truly sensitive".
Newcastle MP Tim Crakanthorp received the documents on Thursday.
"This [arbiter] report confirms that the claims of privilege were absolutely bogus, with not one of the over 2500 pages that were claimed under this privilege held up by an independent arbiter," he said.
"Locals have a right to know what is happening with this project and while I'm pleased that the arbiter has agreed with us in this damning report, an enormous amount of work has gone into obtaining this information and this all could have been avoided if the government had been transparent in the first place.
"Families are making property decisions based on education opportunities, so I will be seeking a meeting with the Minister soon to discuss how we can move forward."
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