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Technology chief ‘directed staff to delete information’ – Viral News

Technology chief ‘directed staff to delete information’

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Technology chief ‘directed staff to delete information’


The investigation also heard that warnings about this culture of suppression were relayed to the then secretary of the department, Tim Reardon, now NSW’s top public servant as head of the Department of Premier and Cabinet.

A preliminary report on the Information Commission’s investigation, seen by the Herald, found that a Transport for NSW executive issued directions to delete government information relevant to a request under the Government Information (Public Access) Act (GIPA), the state’s freedom of information legislation.

The Information Commission's investigation heard of a culture at Transport for NSW of suppressing bad news.

The Information Commission’s investigation heard of a culture at Transport for NSW of suppressing bad news.

Photo: Ryan Stuart

“The investigation has found that the executive directed the deletion of records that were germane to a GIPA access application and that staff acted on that direction,” the report, by Information and Privacy commissioner Elizabeth Tydd, said.

Ms Tydd’s report did not name Mr Catley as the executive who directed the deletion. But the witness statements to the commission assert that it was Mr Catley who gave the direction.

Despite her finding about the direction, Ms Tydd determined there were no grounds to refer the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions or the Attorney-General.

Her analysis of the GIPA Act found it was possible for a public servant to direct another official to prevent disclosure of information without committing an offence.

From the Information Commission's preliminary report into the deletion of records at Transport for NSW.

From the Information Commission’s preliminary report into the deletion of records at Transport for NSW.

According to Ms Tydd’s analysis, if the official who destroys the information is unaware the information is subject to a freedom-of-information request, the person who directed them to delete that information did not commit an offence.

And because other staff at Transport for NSW later ensured the deleted document was retrieved, the commissioner found the government agency had not failed in its duty.

According to evidence given during the investigation, Mr Catley raised concerns at a meeting in July 2016 about emails that detailed a cost blowout in the $425 million “Next Generation Infrastructure Services” project. An application for information about the IT project sought under the GIPA Act was also discussed at the meeting.

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That same month, Mr Catley allegedly directed a more junior staff member to delete an email about the exit from Transport for NSW of a manager who had a senior role overseeing the IT project, according to witness statements given to the Information Commission.

At the time, Mr Catley had responsibility for technology at Transport for NSW as its chief information officer, a role he had held since 2012.

Early this year, a “confidential” report by a consulting firm commissioned by Transport for NSW revealed a concerning picture of the state of IT at the state’s transport agencies.

The Information Commission was also told during its investigation that the full extent of cost blowouts were withheld from steering committees, and attempts made to avoid a project gaining a “red rating” even if it should have one.

A red rating means a project has overshot its budget, which triggers regular audits and greater oversight by the Transport Minister’s office.

After six years at the head of technology, Mr Catley left Transport for NSW in February, assuming the role as the first assistant secretary of the Home Affairs’ information and communication technology division. In his new position, he directly reports to the deputy secretary of Intelligence and Capability at the super ministry.

Mr Catley denied he had directed staff at Transport for NSW to delete government information.

“I am saying that I didn’t do the things that the allegation makes out. I have never asked a staff member to delete an email,” he said. “That is not something I would do.”

Mr Catley said he had not seen the Information Commission’s final report, and did not understand how it could find that he directed the deletion of a record.

He said emails could not be deleted at Transport for NSW because all emails that were sent or received were stored permanently in the agency’s enterprise vault. “It is technologically impossible to delete emails within Transport,” he said.

Mr Catley said he disclosed to Home Affairs that an investigation by NSW’s Information Commission was under way when he was in discussions for a new role at the super ministry.

In the preliminary report, the NSW Information Commissioner concluded that Mr Reardon, the former transport secretary, was “ultimately able to uphold” his responsibilities under the GIPA Act, “notwithstanding the actions of an executive officer and the vulnerabilities that are apparent and able to be exploited”.

Transport for NSW said in a statement that the Information Commissioner found the agency fulfilled its obligations in relation to “all of the access applications reviewed”.

“The commissioner found no evidence that information within scope of the applications was deleted. No information was released in relation to the identified GIPA applications,” it said.

The agency said it was unable to comment on individual staff.

It added it had “governance systems in place that ensure senior leaders and steering committee members are aware of the detail around all major projects”.

The Information Commissioner said in a statement that a final report on the investigation had been handed to Transport Minister Andrew Constance and Transport for NSW.

Ms Tydd declined to comment on whether the final report would be made public but noted that investigations under the GIPA Act were made in the absence of the public.

The Department of Premier and Cabinet referred questions to Transport for NSW.

Home Affairs said it did not comment on individual employees.

Matt O'Sullivan

Matt O’Sullivan is the Transport Reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.

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