Media releases just for PR purposes, according to lawyers

Mark Lipscombe: Interested in government transparency.

Mark Lipscombe: Interested in government transparency.

Media releases about council’s asbestos crisis were “delivered for political and community relations purposes” and “shouldn’t be relied upon” to reflect council’s legal position, lawyers have told a Sydney tribunal.

The assessment of the documents came in a submission to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal by council in its battle with Mark Lipscombe over access to information about recent inquiries.

Mr Lipscombe, of Mt Victoria, applied to council under freedom of information legislation to see the original terms of reference for both the asbestos inquiry and the so-called “jobs for the boys” inquiry.

Council refused so he appealed to the tribunal.

In his submissions to the tribunal, Mr Lipscombe referred to the November 17, 2017 press release which said the investigations “will allow us to get to the truth of the matters, help us resolve any issues and maintain community confidence in council’s performance”.

But council’s lawyers said the tribunal should not consider the statement at all.

“The November release is a media statement delivered for political and community relations purposes and cannot be relied upon as an articulation of the respondent’s legal position on documents in its possession.”

The tribunal has reserved its decision.

Mr Lipscombe said he was pursuing the matter as “a question of transparency and accountability. Council spent north of $1 million on conducting these investigations and is keeping the whole lot secret and it just seems tricky.”

A council spokeswoman said the “jobs for the boys” allegations had been found to be unsubstantiated and their release would be “extremely damaging” to the individuals concerned. And the original asbestos terms of reference were covered by legal professional privilege.

In another development on the asbestos issue, Cr Kerry Brown unsuccessfully sought at the last meeting to have minutes from council’s audit and risk committee publicly released.

"If we have learned anything from the asbestos crisis, it is that the minutes of the audit and risk committee should have come to council to be noted and approved, and so that questions could be asked.

"All advisory committee minutes should be coming to council and be on the public record. Who are they advising if not us?"