The New South Wales government carries out hundreds of projects each year worth millions of dollars. All of these projects are funded by taxpayer dollars so it is important to know how you can access information about them. Furthermore, these projects will often affect your local area, such as building new train lines, roads or schools. This article sets out the different ways you can access information about a government project.
Let’s say you live in Bankstown and your local member has announced that the government will upgrade Bankstown Station as part of the Sydney Metro Northwest Project (formerly the North West Rail Link). How do you find out what those works will involve?
Your first option is to try Google. Major projects (like the Sydney Metro Northwest Project) will have their own website and information page. This should give you some basic details such as the:
- total cost;
- start date; and
- estimated finish date.
It might also include visual information such as diagrams or maps. In this example, you can find a broad overview of the Sydney Metro Northwest Project on Sydney Metro’s website. However, the Construction Overview page doesn’t make it clear who is building the project or what they are getting paid.
If Google doesn’t lead you to the information that you are looking for, all NSW government contracts are publicly available on the:
- e-tender website; or
- specific department relating to the contract, in this case, Transport for New South Wales (TfNSW).
It is important to note that these contracts usually have information that the public cannot view. In this example, to find which companies are carrying out the Sydney Metro West project at Bankstown and the terms of that agreement, you need to go to the TfNSW website and search under the ‘Contracts Awarded’ tab.
However, you will need to submit a GIPA request if you want:
- full copies of these contracts;
- internal government correspondence about the project; or
- information about how certain project decisions were made.
Government Information Public Access (GIPA) Requests
In many ways, the GIPA Act is a NSW version of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act found in other Australian states. You can make GIPA applications online via government department websites by filling out a form. Some commonly requested departments are:
You will need to specify the exact documents or information you would like to access. You will also need to provide some form of identification such as a driver’s licence or a passport.
Are There Any Exceptions to GIPA?
Yes. You will not be able to access highly sensitive information like Australia’s anti-terrorist strategy because sharing this information could jeopardise public health and safety. In addition, you cannot access documents:
- relating to someone’s personal information (e.g. their health records);
- relating to national security, defence or international relations;
- from cabinet;
- affecting law enforcement and the protection of public safety;
- protected by legal professional privilege; or
- disclosing trade secrets or commercially valuable information.
If the information you want to access contains information sensitive to someone who is indirectly involved, they will need to be consulted before you can access the information.
How Much Does a GIPA Application Cost?
The current fee for all GIPA applications is $30. However, this doesn’t include costs associated with retrieving files or photocopying. Anything that involves a large-scale file search or email retrieval will cost more than viewing the full version of a contract. GIPA applications are usually processed within five working days.
What Do I Get Access To?
You will most likely be invited to inspect the files in person and may be able to make copies. Alternatively, there may be another way that you can access the information depending on the application.
What if My GIPA Application is Refused?
If your application is refused, it is usually because the government department says that it cannot reveal the information because it is against public interest. In most cases, it will be possible to appeal a NSW government department’s decision to refuse you access to certain information. The NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) usually deals with these applications. However, you may be able to apply for an internal review of the decision. A lawyer can help assess whether your application to appeal a GIPA refusal is likely to be successful.
Gaining access to information about NSW government projects shouldn’t be a difficult task. In many cases, a quick Google search will direct you to the right page. There will almost always be a copy of the NSW government contract available online for you to view, although there will likely be some information that the government withholds. If you’re looking for more detailed information, it is likely you will need to lodge a GIPA request. You may be able to do this on your own, or you can get a lawyer to do this on your behalf. For more information on accessing NSW government project information or lodging a GIPA request, you can contact LegalVision’s data and privacy lawyers on 1300 544 755 or fill out the form on this page.
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