Education department takes Stop Shepparton’s New Super School member to VCAT

By Madi Chwasta

A member of the group Stop Shepparton's New Super School has been ordered to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal by the Department of Education, in a dispute over a Freedom of Information request.

Stop Shepparton's New Super School secretary Colleen Jones was informed last week she would be taken to VCAT in relation to a Freedom of Information request about Greater Shepparton Secondary College.

It comes after the Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner granted Mrs Jones access to this information in late-March, noting its release would "serve the public interest".

The dispute relates to three pages of a ``ministerial briefing” document from February last year, which would reveal information related to ``key issues'’, ``budget implications” and ``consultations” around the school merger.

A Department of Education spokesman said the department was defending this one exemption, as it "(related) to a cost estimate for construction of the Greater Shepparton Secondary College".

The spokesman added this information was "currently commercial-in-confidence".

Mrs Jones applied for Freedom of Information as an individual, on behalf of the group Stop Shepparton's New Super School, as groups were unable to lodge a request.

She insisted the commissioner's ruling should be upheld.

“The decision should be respected, and they shouldn’t put more stress onto the people of Shepparton,” she said.

However, a stay has been placed on proceedings until further notice because VCAT remains shut due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

VCAT has encouraged the parties to take steps towards resolving the matter in the meantime.

Stop Shepparton's New Super School founder Robyn Boschetti said the group would be supporting Mrs Jones throughout the process.

“We're there with her — it's all of us that's going (to VCAT),” she said.

Mrs Jones said she applied for documents in late-September last year, and had been negotiating with the education department about the release of the requested information ever since.

She has also put in a request for documentation about school council meetings held in the lead-up to the school merger decision.

The Department of Education took similar action against Member for Northern Victoria Wendy Lovell, after she requested information surrounding the risks in establishing the new college.

This request was similarly approved by the Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner.

An agency has 14 days to apply to VCAT for a review to dispute a decision by the Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner.