The University of Newcastle has received the final report from the NSW Assistant Ombudsman investigating whether legislation had been contravened in the processing of a Freedom of Information (FOI) request.
The FOI request by a journalist at The Herald (Newcastle) was for details regarding salaries, bonuses and performances of nominated executive staff at the University.
Vice-Chancellor, Professor Nicholas Saunders, said the University always met its reporting requirements, including those regarding senior executive remuneration packages.
"Each year the University provides details of senior executive remuneration as part of our financial statements audited by the NSW Auditor General and tabled in Parliament. We report in the same manner as all other NSW universities."
An assistant to the Ombudsman has come to a view that the University has acted contrary to the Ombudsman Act 1974 in its response to the FOI request.
"I am astounded by the Assistant Ombudsman's findings," Professor Saunders said. "The report acknowledges that the University has not contravened existing regulations regarding remuneration reporting.
"As the report shows, the NSW Treasury and the NSW Education and Training Minister acknowledge the current reporting requirements for the higher education sector do not require providing details of an individual's salary and performance."
The NSW FOI Manual (published jointly by the NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet and the NSW Ombudsman) states 'documents concerning a person's work capacity or performance should be regarded as concerning the personal affairs of that person…'.
Professor Saunders emphasised that the University had met all of its reporting requirements.
"If the Ombudsman's office is seeking to change legislation or regulations, then it should formally refer its concerns to the appropriate government bodies rather than try to make an example of the University of Newcastle by use of FOI legislation," Professor Saunders said.
In response to the report recommendations, and as previously committed, the University will:
- Release to the complainant a document setting out salary bands and performance payment percentages, without individual staff members' details.
- Augment its use of the NSW FOI Manual with a University FOI Manual, and take into consideration the recommendations from the report regarding this.
- Review its Privacy Management Plan in light of the recommendations made in the report.
- Strive to improve how it deals with FOI applications and increase the training that it gives to its employees who are involved in the FOI application process.