University redacts majority of information revealed through freedom of information requests

Alexi Polden exercised his civic duty and filed a GIPA request relating to the USU's attempts to remove its VP Tom Raue

Over a month ago on October 4, not long after Executive members of the University of Sydney Union (USU) attempted to oust Vice-President Tom Raue, I, as any student could have done, sent an application under the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 (NSW) to the University, seeking any communication between the University and the USU relating to the motion or allegations against Raue. I had hoped I would get a prompt response saying no such information existed.

However, on Tuesday, I received eight pages of emails between Andrew Woodward, the USU’s Board-appointed CEO, and the office of Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence. All but two of those emails were totally redacted by the University. All we know is that on September 25, Woodward emailed Spence raising concerns the USU had relating to Raue and Honi Soit. The University considers there to be an overriding public interest against us knowing what those concerns were.

The timing of the emails is interesting: Woodward’s email setting out those concerns was sent to Spence on September 25. The USU executive publicly announced their intention to oust Raue on September 30. It must have been a disappointment then, to hear back from Spence on October 1 that he “was not particularly concerned” by Raue’s comments or the Honi article.

michael spence

“Student newspapers are what they are and we cannot be too concerned about their misapprehensions.” Michael Spence’s response to an Honi article reporting on evidence leaked to the paper by Raue indicating the University collaborated with police during on campus industrial action.

Spence makes it clear that he feels he has not done anything wrong, and that the University has nothing to hide about its relationship with NSW Police. He and the Group Secretary at the University’s Office of General Counsel, Alex Maitland, who signed off on the University’s response to my request, seem to be in agreement that such clarity of position should be clearly broadcast to the University community.

Mr. Maitland’s opinion differs when it comes to the USU; the concern communicated by Mr. Woodward deserves to be hidden from its members. What did Michael Spence have a right to know, that we the members of the Union do not?

Mr. Maitland is concerned that were communication from the Union released, other campus organisations would stop communicating with the Vice-Chancellor. Which raises the question, who else has been telling tales out of school?

His main objection, however, relates to personal privacy: the documents apparently identify a person by name (who could that possibly be?), as the University does not have the “express consent of the individual concerned”. Raue was in fact contacted: when he asked to the see the documents about which concerns are apparently held, presumably on his behalf, he was told he could not see them.

The irony is that much of the information that has been redacted could end up coming out in Raue’s hearing in the Supreme Court this Friday. If that happens, we may then learn a little more about this closely guarded secret.

Until then, read the little you can below, with the comforting reminder from Spence that “student newspapers are what they are and we cannot be too concerned about their misapprehensions.”

UPDATE: The redacted document has been tendered as evidence in court and is now available here.

Honi Soit
Honi Soit is the largest and oldest weekly student newspaper in Australia. Our articles, like this one, are made possible by our dedicated student reporters and contributors.
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