DISPUTED ROUTE: The topographic map of the Coffs Harbour Pacific Highway Bypass released by the RMS last year withou tunnels showing land bridges and a cutting.
DISPUTED ROUTE: The topographic map of the Coffs Harbour Pacific Highway Bypass released by the RMS last year withou tunnels showing land bridges and a cutting. RMS

Pressure mounts on RMS to release bypass documents

IS the RMS flouting the nation's freedom of information laws?

This is the question being asked in light of the drawn out legal battle currently underway to force the Roads and Maritime Service to release documentation in relation to design changes on the Coffs Harbour bypass.

"What is going on?" asks Coffs Bypass Action Group (CBAG) spokesman Rod McKelvey.

"This week we read of a whistle blower calling out a former Prime Minister for being in breach of the old Freedom of Information Act (now GIPA) and it seems we have an example right here in our own back yard," Mr McKelvey said.

 

Coffs Bypass Action Group spokesman Rod McKelvey.
Coffs Bypass Action Group spokesman Rod McKelvey. TREVOR VEALE

GIPA refers to the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 which replaced the Freedom of Information Act 1989.

This week the latest chapter in councillor Sally Townley's fight to gain access to documentation charting design changes for the Coffs Harbour Bypass played out in the Coffs Harbour Court House.

The day ended in frustration with no answers and another court date set down for July 30.

"Yet again, at significant personal cost of time, energy and money, Sally Townley had to endure almost five hours of arrogant excuses, designed to avoid making a decision to release documents, lawfully requested under GIPA, about a major, publicly-funded, local infrastructure project," Mr McKelvey said.

 

Sally Townley walks into the Coffs Harbour Court House this week.
Sally Townley walks into the Coffs Harbour Court House this week. TREVOR VEALE

"Was the person sent to the mediation unqualified, incompetent or under orders to delay? If it's the latter, then who is giving the orders and why?"

He says it's unacceptable that a government agency is spending thousands of dollars on legal fees to hide information.

"You can only wonder to whose benefit it is to dig cuttings instead of boring tunnels. It's certainly not Coffs Harbour's."

Newly elected Cowper MP Patrick Conaghan has indicated that getting work started on the bypass as soon as possible is one of his priorities as he heads into the first week of parliament next week.

He is aware of the current legal battle underway and the latest attempt by Cr Townley, which has seen the matter taken up by the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT).

 

Sally Townley and Coffs Harbour Bypass Action Group supporters outside court this week as the legal challenge calls on the RMS to publicly release information showing tunnels will be included on the $1.2 billion project. The EIS was first set for release in December 2018 then June/July this year.
Sally Townley and Coffs Harbour Bypass Action Group supporters outside court this week as the legal challenge calls on the RMS to publicly release information showing tunnels will be included on the $1.2 billion project. The EIS was first set for release in December 2018 then June/July this year. TREVOR VEALE

It was NCAT who ordered the RMS to attend mediation at Coffs Courthouse this week.

"NCAT don't muck around and they will follow proper proceedings, and unless there are good reasons - and it would have to be very good reasons - the RMS will have to provide the details," Mr Conaghan said.

"I wouldn't say the RMS are not being transparent, but more communication would have helped the process."

He has also contacted Paul Toole, the new Minister for Regional Transport and Roads to ask for an update on the progress of the EIS. It had been promised for release in December last year and now even the mid-2019 date is looking unlikely.

The Advocate posed a number of questions to the RMS. They declined to answer, but issued the following statement:

"This mediation process, including the hearing held on Monday June 24, is being overseen by the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT)," the RMS stated.

"All parties have been required to enter into a confidentiality agreement in relation to this matter and therefore it would be inappropriate for Roads and Maritime Services to provide comment while it is proceeding. "



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