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Is it confidential, does it matter?

The Inspectorate receives many complaints where it is alleged confidential information has been released from council which harmed the business or reputation of council.

Unauthorised release of information has a range of adverse outcomes for councils. At the more serious level, it may relate to private, commercial, legal or personal information. Other circumstances include where issues are discussed in council and those discussions are publicly disclosed without approval from those involved.

The Inspectorate supports open and transparent local government but also recognises the legislative need to protect information. Confidentiality is also important in many cases to allow for effective council operations.

The Inspectorate investigates allegations where information has been deemed confidential by the process set out in the Local Government Act (section 77). The council CEO is responsible for the process to designate information as confidential and penalties may apply for any person subject to section 77(1) who releases that information.

A common complaint received by the Inspectorate relates to material or information that is understood to be in confidence but is disclosed without authorisation or agreement. Where information has not been designated confidential under the Act, it is the council's role to manage confidentiality and this is achieved through councillor and staff codes of conduct.

In some circumstances, the Inspectorate may investigate the improper use of information by a councillor regardless of whether it has been deemed confidential. This may constitute one of the more serious offences in the Act, misuse of position. The Inspectorate is currently prosecuting multiple charges related to a misuse of position against former Murrindindi Shire councillor Chris Healy with the determination to be made on 10 October.