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FOI controversy over street team

A street team that provide youth services in the Redfern and Waterloo areas between 2003 and 2005 failed partly because the model imposed on it by senior NSW government public servants was "flawed", confused and needed more community consultation and involvement reports Precinct southside Issue 4/2007 in November 2007.

These were findings of the Review of the Redfern Waterloo Street Team (RWST) draft report, a copy of which has been obtained by Precinct southside.

An urgent Cabinet directive established the street team project in 2001 after negative media coverage about problems with young people in Waterloo. The plan was for community education, crisis services, early intervention and youth activities to be delivered by a single team representing a number of Government departments and non-government organisations.

The scathing report found as a result of the flawed plan, experienced staff left, very few children were helped and that 30 per cent of requests for help were for a "lift home" -- a service which staff suspected encouraged young people to stay out at night.

In 2004, the NSW government told a state parliamentary committee into Redfern Waterloo that it regarded the street team as one its greatest achievements.

In mid 2005, independent consultant Penny Ryan from RPR was paid $41,000 by the NSW Department of Community Services to prepare the evaluation report. She found the original plan was not "properly thought through". Many people interviewed for the report identified the imposition of the model from above as a key factor in the difficulties the RWST later faced.

Ms Ryan found that if future services were to be more successful there would need to be a "greater level of collaboration and ownership by community members, parents, young people and service providers."

The findings were provided to the Operational Management Group of senior public servants who planned and oversaw the project. Precinct cannot report if Ms Ryan's views about the flawed management of the project were included in her final report because the NSW Premier's Department and the Redfern-Waterloo Authority (RWA) refused to release the report.

Ms Ryan said she was unable to comment.

After the government received the report, the street team project was closed down. Late in 2005, members of the community organisation REDwatch asked for copies of the draft and final report. The RWA told REDwatch to make an application under the Freedom of Information Act. At the outset, REDwatch applicant Geoff Turnbull agreed that any names revealing personal information could be deleted. In fact, the draft report contains almost no names of any kind.

In an email tabled in NSW parliament last year, senior FOI officer in the NSW Premier's Department Ken Cull advised the RWA that the document "may be Cabinet document in confidence" because Cabinet had made a decision that there should be an evaluation of the street team project.

Cabinet documents are exempt under the FOI act. The RWA refused to supply the document on this basis. In February 2006, REDwatch asked the RWA to review its decision pointing out that the FOI officer had the discretion to release a document if it was in the public interest even if it could be regarded as a Cabinet document.

Mr Turnbull said he reminded the authority that the object of the FOI Act was to "extend, as far as possible, the rights of the public to obtain access to information held by the government."

The Redfern-Waterloo Authority's, CEO Robert Domm was unavailable for comment.

A source inside the RWA said that the authority did not release the report because it "didn't want to put the young people included in the report in that position at the start of their careers." There are no names in the report and REDwatch had already agreed to delete any personal information.

Two years on, REDwatch still wants the report.

"Without Government making available evaluation reports it is impossible to objectively assess what has happened and what has not. All you have is the RWA spin about what a great job they are doing, and the services experience that little has changed and scarce human services resources have been wasted," said spokesperson Geoff Turnbull.

Source: University of Technology Precinct Southside Issue 4/2007 page 2.

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