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Privacy and performance management.


The Administrative Decisions Tribunal has explained one of the exemptions under the Privacy and Personal Information Protection Act 1998 (NSW) which is of particular relevance to State and local government agencies.

QN was an employed by Fire and Rescue NSW and occupied residential premises supplied by his employer.  He complained about the accommodation as well as about victimisation, bullying and harassment. His senior officers complained about his performance, in particular;  that he failed to follow instructions.

Fire and Rescue NSW subsequently engaged an external psychologist to investigate and recommendations about issues such as QN’s cooperativeness, his ability to work as part of an effective team and interpersonal skills.  The psychologist was provided with a number of documents, including a file about the residential accommodation with personal information about QN, his wife and children.  QN alleged the disclosure breached the PPIP Act.

The Tribunal confirmed that the information was exempt under section 4(3)(j) of the PPIP Act, which says that   “Personal information does not include any of the following … (j) information or an opinion about an individual’s suitability for appointment or employment as a public sector official,”  The Tribunal accepted that the psychologist’s report was mainly directed towards QN’s suitability for employment.  Although some of the documents related to the accommodation issue, the central concern was his suitability for employment as a public sector official.

To the extent the psychologist was provided with information about QN’s wife and children, it was appropriate that such information was disclosed to address his conduct in the course of his employment. That information was also exempt under the Act.

Information need not be kept confidential if it is to be used to assess an individual’s work performance. The terms of reference may be general and deal with a range of issues, so long as it indicates to an objective observer that the information canvasses the aptitude and competence of a public sector employee with respect to their current or prospective employment.

Read the judgement in QN & Ors v Commissioner of Fire Brigades

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