Watt v Forests NSW

August 2007

EDO NSW represented Gerry Watt in a Freedom of Information matter before the NSW Administrative Decisions Tribunal. Mr Watt sought from Forests NSW the separate royalty rates for pulp logs in the Southern and Eden Regional Forest Agreement regions for 2003-2004.

Forests NSW initially refused access to the information based on 3 exemptions under the Freedom of Information Act:

  • The information was commercial in nature;
  • The information concerned the business, professional, commercial or financial affairs of a company, where the release of the information could be reasonably expected to have an unreasonable adverse effect on those affairs or prejudice the future supply of the information to the agency or the Government; and
  • The release of the information would found an action for breach of confidence.

The Tribunal rejected all of the above clauses as reasons for exemption, and determined to release the documents.

In arriving at a decision, Tribunal Member Stephen Montgomery said:

In my view, the potential socio-economic impact that would flow from release of the royalty rate is a highly relevant factor. If Forests NSW were correct in its assessment of the potential impact, very strong grounds would need to be found to justify the disclosure of the royalty rate. In my view, the factors favouring disclosure are sufficiently strong to justify disclosure. These factors all favour the opportunity for debate on an issue of significant public interest - the socioeconomic and ecological value of these publicly owned forests and whether the existing operations provide an adequate return to the community from the use of a public resource. An uninformed public cannot usefully participate in that debate.