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Opinions on Ministerial Notifications

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Ministerial decision not to provide a full briefing note about an out-of-home care information session

Opinion

The decision by the Minister for Child Protection; Women’s Interests; Prevention of Family and Domestic Violence; Community Services, the Hon Simone McGurk MLA, to provide Parliament with a redacted briefing note about an out-of-home care information session was reasonable and therefore appropriate.

Background

In Parliament on 12 March 2019, the Hon Nick Goiran MLC, asked the Leader of the House representing the Minister for Child Protection for the briefing note about an out-of-home care information session held on 13 February 2019.

On 10 April 2019, all parts of Question on Notice 1963 were answered, with a redacted briefing note provided in answer to part (e).

The full transcript of the Parliamentary question and the Minister’s response is in Appendix 2.

On 24 April 2019, the Auditor General received the Minister’s notification of the decision not to provide the full requested information in accordance with section 82 of the FM Act.

Key findings

The decision by the Minister to provide Parliament with a redacted briefing note was reasonable and therefore appropriate.

The Minister properly sought advice from the Department of Communities (Department) before responding to the request. The Department recommended that the briefing note be tabled with information redacted. In making its recommendation, the Department sought advice from the Department’s General Counsel and the SSO.

The Department concluded that the release of the entire briefing note would likely negatively impact future procurement of out-of-home care services, given the commercially sensitive nature of the information.

We assessed the redacted information against two key criteria. Specifically:

Criterion 1 – Is the information sufficiently secret? Is it significant?

This criterion was met. We found that the redacted information in the briefing note was not generally known nor ascertainable using publicly available sources at the time the Minister declined to provide it. We compared the redacted information in the briefing note to the information presented at the information session on 13 February 2019 and found the redacted information was not presented. The redacted information included current service provider occupancy rates and funded placements, and the impacts of a proposed reform model on individual service provider funding.

Criterion 2 – Is it in the public interest for the information to remain confidential?

This criterion was met. In assessing this, we weighed the public interest in releasing the redacted information against the possible harm to the interests of government or another party. We concluded that the commercial interests of current service providers could be adversely affected if the information was released. The tabled briefing note disclosed the names of current service providers and their annual funding levels. However, we found that reasonable grounds exist for keeping the redacted information confidential as it could reveal service provider business models.

We also found that government interests could be adversely affected. The Department is developing a new service model as part of a suite of out-of-home care reforms. The reforms are intended to provide greater accountability for out-of-home care funding. The information was essential to government’s evaluation of the reform model, including the model’s suitability and the possible financial impacts on service providers. Release of the information could be detrimental to ongoing government consultations with key stakeholders.

Response from the Department of Communities

The Department of Communities (Communities) notes the findings of the Auditor General set out in this Opinion. The Minister’s decision to redact certain sensitive information from the briefing note was made after careful consideration and to protect the commercial interests of current service providers and the commercial interests of the State. Communities welcomes the Auditor General’s finding that this was reasonable and therefore appropriate.

 

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