Ghost of memos past visits Shellharbour privacy debate

The ghost of a controversial Shellharbour City Council memo that identified "vexatious complainants" returned to haunt Lamerton House as councillors considered a revised privacy management plan.

The internal memo, which "fell off the back of a truck" into the hands of former Illawarra Mercury journalist William Verity in November 2004, was presented to the Department of Local Government in 2005.

The memo identified nine people who were accused of wasting council staff time by prompting inquiries from government agencies, including the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) and the Department of Local Government.

Censored versions were released five years later by council administrator David Jesson.

Lamerton House.

Lamerton House.

Some of the people named have long argued the document contained incorrect information that had caused embarrassment for which no-one was held accountable.

One of those, Sonya McKay, raised concerns that the council had refused to amend the document because it was "a historical document that can't be corrected".

Ms McKay has called for the council to produce a report that outlined who the memo has been released to and what corrections - if any - had been made.

Last week Cr Peter Moran successfully moved that the adoption of the council revised plan be deferred.

"My concerns are that the proposed changes seem to weaken the privacy management protections that are laid out in the Privacy And Personal Information Protection Act," Cr Moran said.

"I don't wish to see the council go down a road where personal information is not handled properly in the future."

Cr Moran cited the addition of one particular paragraph as being of concern. It stated "Council may also use personal information when it is reasonably necessary for law enforcement purposes or the protection of the public revenue. Additionally the council may use personal information to exercise complaint handling or investigative functions".

The council's public officer, Flora MastroDomenico, said the council's 2011 plan was reviewed against a model plan issued by the Office of Local Government to all councils, however Cr Moran said he believed the council's proposed plan "appeared to go further than the model plan would suggest".

Councillors unanimously resolved to defer the item.