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Sunday, February 05, 2006

No paper trail if possilbe

Writing in The Australian Financial Review on 3 February about the mess concerning AWB and secret payments to Iraq, Laura Tingle recounted the following as indicative of what appears to have become a pattern in Australian Government:

"In the early days of the Howard government, a bureaucrat sent his department's weighty cabinet submission to a senior cabinet minister, outlining options for budget cuts in Peter Costello's first budget.

He was rather stunned when it promptly ricocheted back to him accompanied by a phone call from the minister's office saying it would not formally receive the submission until some controversial options had been removed from it. It was an early exercise in the trade of paper-trail deniability under the current government: if there isn't a stamp on a document saying it has been received in a minister's office, its existence as an option that the government has considered can be unctuously denied in parliament - and everywhere else".

Concern about counter measures being taken to frustrate the open government principles were raised in July last year by the retiring Public Service Commissioner and former Secretary of Health, Andrew Podger. As reported in The Canberra Times Podger told a farewell function that "some senior public servants are too concerned to please and serve partisian government interests by failing to keep proper notes, destroying diaries and ratcheting up security classification of documents".

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