ACCESSING CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION
Accessing and using information appropriately is an important aspect of good conduct in local government.
Section 77 of the Local Government Act 1989 states that councillors must not disclose confidential information. The legislation outlines how information becomes confidential, and what limits and time periods can be applied.
KEEPING SOME INFORMATION CONFIDENTIAL
Councillors need to have good information to do their jobs properly. So it’s important that councils have robust processes and systems in place for providing councillors with information – whether as formal advice, in briefings or through individual requests. This is particularly important when it comes to confidential information.
Local government needs to be able to keep certain information confidential, especially when it relates to important commercial issues or the privacy of individuals. While it’s usually obvious which information should be made confidential, there can sometimes be genuine disagreement or political debate around the exact meaning of certain information.
Sometimes council may need to discuss particular issues or information in a meeting that is closed to the public. Section 89 of the Act lists the types of information that the council may need to deal with in closed meetings.
For more detail about the different ways that councillors can access information see Forming an opinion.
CONFIDENTIALITY AND GOOD GOVERNANCE
Local government can ensure that confidential information is identified and treated appropriately in the following ways:
- Information should only be classified as confidential if it’s strictly necessary according to the Act. Just because information may be embarrassing or awkward for the council is not a reason for declaring it confidential. It’s much easier to enforce the provisions if they cover only what is really required.
- Protocols which not only state how information can be used and accessed should be created. These protocols should clearly emphasise that leaking is not appropriate under any circumstances.
Leaking confidential information is both illegal and damaging to the council. It not only affects the ability of council to perform its functions, but undermines the trust that external organisations and individuals may have in council to keep certain information confidential.
A councillor who discloses confidential information may be brought before a Councillor Conduct Panel or the Victorian Civil Administration Tribunal for a misconduct or serious misconduct hearing. See Addressing breaches of conduct for more information.