ACT News

Canberra Liberals challenge costs decision on Labor club FoI request

 An administrative tribunal challenge to freedom of information charges brought by ACT deputy opposition leader Alistair Coe will begin this week, as he seeks information on profits made by the Labor Party from changing the status on the lease of a Weston Creek club.  

In August, bureaucrats from the ACT Environment and Planning Directorate asked the Liberal opposition to pay $2087 for the release of documents about the Weston Creek Labor Club, citing the need for 65 hours of work to collate information.

ACT deputy opposition leader Alistair Coe.
ACT deputy opposition leader Alistair Coe. Photo: Jay Cronan

The charge included provision for nearly 29 hours to deciding what could be released, at a cost of $614.56.

Locating the required documents would take public servants 36 hours and cost $376.62, as well as charges of $1096 for photocopying. 

Mr Coe applied to the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal for the cost decision by the directorate's deputy director-general to be reviewed, arguing the release of the information was in the public interest.

He had previously sought for the fees to be waived by the directorate in keeping with long-standing convention that members of parliament are not charged for freedom of information requests. 

The matter has been listed for consideration at a directions hearing on Wednesday. 

Debate about concessional leases resumed in the ACT after a tribunal challenge over the Canberra Raiders' planned redevelopment of a site adjacent to Northbourne Oval in Braddon. 

ACT Planning Minister Simon Corbell has faced criticism for responding in a formulaic fashion to 13 lease variation approvals since late 2010, including the Weston Creek club. 

The low-cost leases are granted to groups for activities that benefit the community. 

Where properties are to be sold or developed, an application is required to be made to remove the concessional status, prompting consideration by the planning minister to establish if the change is in the community interest.

The lease for the Weston Creek Labor Club at Stirling had its concessional status removed in 2012. 

The Liberal Party has long pursued Labor over funding received from Labor clubs, but Mr Coe said a review of the $2087 charge was needed to ensure government decision-making at the directorate level was transparent.  

He said the large fee exposed the government to "allegations that it is trying to withhold this important information" after $4.75 million in party election donations were made from clubs between 2003 and 2012.

Mr Coe said there was no suggestion that anything inappropriate had occurred, but the public was "right to be uneasy about decisions which potentially result in a financial gain for a political party when that party is in government". 

"The decision should be reviewed because it is in the public interest for information about planning processes, particularly those processess which are the subject of significant public discussion and some unease, to be available to the public," Mr Coe said. 

"Deconcessionalisation of a lease may eventually allow the land to be used for a purpose far removed from the original expected use. For this reason it is important that the public has access to information about the deconcessionalisations process." 

Mr Coe changed his original request for information about three Labor clubs after bureaucrats said access to those documents would cost more than $6000.