Urgent review after council CCTV shutdown

NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell has ordered "an urgent review" of a ruling from the NSW Administrative Decisions Tribunal after CCTV cameras in Nowra's central business district were switched off after doubts about their legality.

The cameras, owned by Shoalhaven City Council and monitored by NSW Police, were switched off on Friday after the ADT ruled privacy laws had been breached under the Privacy and Personal Information Protection Act 1998.

"CCTV is a vital tool in the fight against crime and I am determined to ensure they remain so," Mr O'Farrell said.

MORE: CCTV cameras switched off in Nowra CBD

"I've asked the Attorney General to seek urgent advice on the implications and whether legislative amendments are required to validate the continued use of CCTV.

"I want to see these cameras switched back on in the Shoalhaven as soon as possible.

"CCTV has proven essential in assisting police - most recently in the brutal rape and murder of Melbourne woman Jill Meagher.

"The NSW government will do what is needed to ensure CCTV remains a weapon for police, local councils and other law enforcement authorities."

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However Adam Bonner, the man who took up the fight against Nowra's CCTV cameras in 2009, said Mr O'Farrell was "shooting from the hip" without understanding the decision. Mr Bonner said it meant CCTV cameras need to collect information accurately and not excessively.

"Crime would never have been detected by these cameras anyway," Mr Bonner said.

Mr Bonner said the tribunal heard since the CCTV program began not only had crime in Nowra's CBD increased in key areas, such as assaults and malicious damage, but police applications to use footage had declined.

Mr Bonner said he had lived in the Shoalhaven for 12 years and had gone into the Nowra CBD every second day and never been the victim of a crime.

 ‘‘I was dismayed when I read about them being installed...in a free and fair society individuals ought to have a choice if their personal information is collected, stored and used by councils and police.

‘‘I’d never consent to images of me being stored on a database.’’

Issues were also raised regarding the use of generic password used by police to view footage and that the ‘‘program is open to unauthorised access and misuse’’.

The ADT ordered the council apologise to Mr Bonner, but Mr Bonner said the council, along with former mayor Paul Green and former deputy mayor Gareth Ward – both now members of State Parliament – should be apologising to the Shoalhaven’s residents and ratepayers.

‘‘They are the ones that are footing a bill for hundreds of thousands of dollars for cameras that have never worked and never should have been turned on,’’ Mr Bonner said.

When it comes to setting a precedent for other areas, Mr Bonner said even if cameras in other areas were of a higher quality than Nowra’s, the issue would come down to whether the amount of personal information being collected ‘‘is excessive’’.

Kiama MP Gareth Ward said he would not be apologising.

‘‘Mr Bonner should be apologising to the Shoalhaven for putting business and residents at risk,’’ Mr Ward said.

‘‘I trust our police to provide advice to ask for the tools they need to fight crime.

‘‘If anyone wants to take their local council to the ADT then this is a precedent [but] I don’t agree with the judgment – it has several weaknesses.’’

The ADT finding did not order the cameras be switched off, but there was an acceptance it would be ‘‘an inevitable consequence’’.

Shoalhaven mayor Joanna Gash said she was disappointed with the tribunal’s decision.

‘‘Council will need to wade through the details of the judgment,’’ Cr Gash said.

‘‘I believe that the law seems to be making it extremely difficult for councils to help the community and police reduce crime.’’

• The  ADT decision can be viewed at www.caselaw.nsw.gov.au/action/PJUDG?jgmtid=164456

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