Veteran councillor Paul Tully.
Veteran councillor Paul Tully.

Tully only councillor not to sign expenses privacy waiver

VETERAN councillor Paul Tully is the only member of the new Ipswich council who has not signed a privacy waiver to allow for the public release of regular councillor expenses.

The council’s annual report for 2019-20 published councillor expenses by transactions for the financial year for the very first time.

But the council has run into privacy issues when it comes to putting more detailed information on a regular basis on its landmark Transparency and Integrity Hub.

Ipwsich mayor Teresa Harding speaks to Division 1 councillor Jacob Madsen. The council has run into privacy issues with its landmark Transparency and Integrity Hub.
Ipwsich mayor Teresa Harding speaks to Division 1 councillor Jacob Madsen. The council has run into privacy issues with its landmark Transparency and Integrity Hub.

The hub launched on July 1 after the council resolved to publish all councillor related expenses, allowances and reimbursements for each month including contextual details in April.

Former councillors and directors of council-owned entities have since been contacted to ask for consent to publish their personal information on the portal.

A report presented to the governance and transparency committee last week by corporate services general manager Sonia Cooper noted some “operational constraints” had impacted “the ability to fulfil some deliverables to the full extent.”

“Council acted with particular care and diligence to ensure that it acted lawfully,” the report notes.

“(The council has) not published information including the names of individuals and / or contextual information that would potentially lead to the identification of individuals.

“This information was de-identified.

“However, the process of de-identification has resulted in a loss of data context, making is less consumable for the public, and limiting its relevance for re-use thereby diminishing transparency and integrity.”

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The council submitted an application for a waiver from its obligation to comply with the privacy principles in the public interest in line with the Information Privacy Act 2009 to the Queensland Office of the Information Commissioner in July.

“Council’s application for waiver continues to be under consideration with several

exchanges of letters and further information provided since that time,” the report notes.

Consultation with former councillors and directors of council-owned entities began in September.

“(This) is continuing with some consents received, some responses received clearly indicating that they do not consent, others either seeking further information and a number having not responded,” the report notes.

“Council officers are sending further information to those that have requested it and follow up letters to those that have not responded.

“With regard to current councillors, express consent has been received in writing from eight councillors.

“The ninth councillor has acknowledged receipt of the first letter but has not at this time provided a response to consent or not consent.

“Two pieces of follow up correspondence have been sent to the ninth councillor.”

The committee moved on November 19 that councillor expenses for current councillors be published on the hub, but only for those who have provided their consent.

This excludes Cr Tully, who did not vote on the matter as he is not on the committee.

CEO David Farmer said the council is still awaiting the outcome of its application to the Privacy Commissioner for waiver of the privacy principles.

“If the application is successful, it will allow council to publish councillor and former company expenses in the hub,” he said.

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“The matter is yet to be confirmed by council and is on the agenda for council meeting (on Thursday).

“Council will provide an update, as soon as it receives further information on the progress of its application.

“Council has a forward plan of data to add to the hub, for example our forward procurement schedule, and is planning to seek feedback from the community on what they would like to see on the hub in the new year in early 2021.”

Reflecting on her first six months in the job, Cr Harding told the QT earlier this month she wants open the books “completely.”

“I think the ratepayers of Ipswich absolutely deserve to see how their money is spent, particularly as the previous council did lose over $78 million,” she said.

“We’re going through a process that’s taking longer than I expected.

“I was hoping we could publish that on July 1 and we could move on as a council.

“The longer it goes on, I don’t think it’s a good thing for the people of Ipswich.”

Read more stories by Lachlan McIvor here.