A NSW Government website


Open data and information guideline

Our open by default data and information principles.

Transparent water.

Guideline on publication and information disclosure in the Water Group

This guideline sets out how the department’s Water Group will implement its open by default data and information principle.

Open by default

The department’s Water Group has adopted an “if not, why not” approach to data and information.

This guideline is supported by and implements Part 2 of the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 (the GIPA Act) which states that “There is a presumption in favour of the disclosure of government information unless there is an overriding public interest against disclosure.”

When deciding what information not to make public, we will be guided by the principles in the GIPA Act. Where this guideline provides discretion to not make something public, the decision will be made by a director or more senior member of staff. Decisions to not release the types of documents and information detailed in this guideline will be recorded in a register and detail the reasons for the decision.

The NSW Water Strategy includes as a priority to build community confidence and capacity through engagement, transparency and accountability. This guideline describes how, as described in the NSW Water Strategy, we will “take an open by default approach to information and publication that describes when and how we publish information, based on an ‘if not why not’ approach”.

We will err on the side of making things public. This means that while we will take all due care, on some occasions we may publish material with errors or in error, not well formatted or not well suited for a public audience.

We will review and report on our implementation of this guideline on an annual basis.

Protected where required

We are required to protect and keep confidential some data and information, and are required to adhere to NSW Government policies for information security (e.g. the NSW Cyber Security Policy).

An assessment should determine if data and information should not be made public, or not made public in full, where any of the following considerations apply:

  • Privacy
  • Security
  • Confidentiality
  • Legal privilege
  • Cabinet in confidence
  • Public interest

We may redact sensitive or confidential parts of documents or correspondence before making them public. This will be done to facilitate proactive disclosure (where the alternative may be not to publish the document at all), or to protect personal and private information as required under the Privacy and Personal Information Protection Act 1998. Correspondence with private individuals will only be released with explicit permission from the private individuals.

Publication of internal documents

We will from time to time proactively disclose (on a public website) internal and operational documents that were not designed for a public audience, where they are not sensitive or confidential.

As internal documents, these are not designed to meet modern accessibility standards, nor require publication of geospatial information as described below.

As internal working and operational documents they will not be subject to the same quality checks as normal publications and may contain errors, however the intent is to proactively disclose material that may be in the public interest. The alternative to this would usually be that the document would not be made public.

Any document or information that is available on a public website is considered to have been ‘published’ and can be freely shared with any person.

Meetings and presentations

Details of meetings and events with stakeholders outside the NSW Government sector will be captured in our customer relations management system and we will disclose online that these meetings took place.

We frequently give presentations to external stakeholders. These presentations, along with any supporting material, and responses to questions on notice will be published online within one month of a meeting, unless the material is sensitive or confidential (for example some meetings with other governments or including discussion of market or commercially sensitive material).

We will publish a more detailed document that explains what records are required for stakeholder meetings.

This does not extend to meetings with contractors or consultants that we have engaged to do work on our behalf – these meetings are considered internal meetings for the purpose of this guideline.

Correspondence with regulators and other jurisdictions

We will establish an advice register on our website.

We will aim to publish advice and correspondence to regulators (such as the department’s Planning & Assessment Group or the Environment Protection Authority) or other jurisdictions where the information is not sensitive and publishing the information would not jeopardise good government or interjurisdictional relationships.

Where we provide formal advice to a regulator on a major project, we will usually publish the advice two months after we send the correspondence. This provides a balance between allowing the regulator to consider and act on the advice appropriately, with subsequent public transparency of the advice we have provided.

In many cases a regulator will publish our advice sooner, which we support.

If our advice is routinely published elsewhere (such as on the department’s Planning Portal), we will not generally re-publish it in our register.

If in the public interest, we may decide to publish some advice sooner than two months, and in other cases where the advice is sensitive, we may decide not to publish the advice for a longer period or at all, however we will provide a public explanation for this and disclose the existence of the advice.

Our routine technical advice to WaterNSW, the Natural Resources Access Regulator (NRAR) or other organisations will not be published, however reasons for decisions will be provided to an applicant by the organisation we provided the advice to.

Correspondence with non-government stakeholders

We will not routinely publish correspondence with non-Government stakeholders. However, unless we have explicitly requested that correspondence remain confidential, recipients of correspondence from us are free to publish or share that correspondence.

We will generally seek permission from a non-government stakeholder prior to disclosure of correspondence, however in some cases we may be required by law to disclose it, or in other cases there may be implied permission, for example if the correspondence has already been released.

Historical documents

We will continually seek historical and legacy documents that are not currently in the public domain, and where there may be a public interest in making these available, they will be made public online.

These documents are made public on an “as is” basis, in their historical context. This means that they will not be fact checked or updated, revised to meet modern accessibility standards, or require the associated publication of geospatial information. On occasion we will take steps to inform users of any concerns. This may be by applying a disclaimer, license or other form of notification.


When preparing new publications, we will adhere to modern accessibility standards, unless there is an overriding public interest in publishing material that is not able to be made accessible.

Under this guideline we will also disclose a range of information and documents which have not been prepared or designed for a public audience.

To make this happen, many internal or historical documents will not meet modern accessibility standards.

If a more accessible version of any of this information is required we will be pleased to assist.

Geospatial publication

Many publications, plans or strategies we develop include maps or spatial information. We will, where feasible, make this information available as digital geospatial information that can be imported into mapping software for external use. The Open Data Framework and Spatial Data Policy will provide detail on the available and preferred methods for publishing spatial data.

Open data

We have developed an open data framework to enable and support public access to data. Through this framework we will improve the availability and useability of the data we hold and generate, including models and model outputs.

We will use a variety of platforms to make this data open, including the SEED Portal, the NSW Planning Portal and the Spatial Collaboration Portal.

Our open data will be freely available for public use under a creative commons attribution licence.


For further detail please refer to the NSW Government Data Glossary.

TermMeaning in this document
Confidential informationAny information with restrictions placed on its dissemination (as described by the Independent Commission Against Corruption)
DataData generally refers to facts and figures that can be represented as numbers, text, graphics, sound or video, as well as how these are interpreted.
DisclosePublish a document or information which was not prepared with the intent of publishing.
InformationKnowledge concerning objects such as facts, events, things, processes or ideas including concepts that within a certain context have a particular meaning.

Information is data that has been processed into a form (physical, oral or electronic) that is meaningful to the recipient.
Personal/private informationInformation or an opinion (including in a database) about an individual whose identity is apparent or can reasonably be ascertained.
PublicationA document or information which was prepared with the intent of publication.
PublishMake available to the public through a publicly available website or similar widely available public platform.
Sensitive informationInformation, which if compromised, may cause limited damage to individuals, organisations or government (as described in the NSW Government Information Classification, Labelling and Handing Guidelines - August 2020)