My speaking notes are attached. Other speakers were Wendy Bacon and Dr. Ann Smith of Save Barrington Tops Group.
In essence while the NSW FOI Act isn't the worst or the worst administered in the land, the case for review is very strong and reform is long overdue. The Greens have introduced a Bill into the Legislative Council that would require independent review of the Act. In my view a good act is essential, but insufficient to achieve open government objectives. Leadership, support and resources are among the other essential ingredients.
In 2006, a government committed to extending as far as possible the rights of the public to access government information (the objects set out in the FOI Act in 1988) would start with a commitment to proactive disclosure of a wide range of information concerning the conduct of public functions, and position FOI as the last resort mechanism for access to information not otherwise available.
Access to government information continues to be an important accountability issue but in this day and age, access to such information to enable use and reuse to promote social and economic advancement, should also be recognised in our right to information law.
I made a couple of references to what is happening overseas:
- while we talk (for over a year) about greater disclosure requirements for government contracts, the US is embarking on developing an online data base to enable all government contracts, grants and loans to be searched by electorate, recipient, spending program and agency;
- while we rediscover the importance of performance indicators, and emphasise these will be included in a plan for NSW to be released by the Premier before the end of the year, the US Office of Management and Budget has online information about government spending programs and provides an ongoing assessment of those that are effective, ineffective, or where results have not been demonstrated;
- the UK Office of Public Sector Information responsible for compliance with the EU Directive on Use and Reuse of Government Information.;
- the Canadian Government mandatory online reporting requirements for travel and hospitality expenses, contracts and grants, and a link here to the details for all government agencies.