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Friday, February 22, 2008

NSW should give honesty and transparency a try

Photo Sydney Morning Herald

NSW has gone from the 'Premier State' to a state of despair in the last few months, as evidenced by screaming headlines and editorials in today's papers. Ongoing issues about competence now have a whiff of corruption, but with three years and one month to the next election, the government itself is faced with how to dig a way out of these holes of its own making.

It's a big job to rebuild trust and confidence, but Premier, give a bit of thought to how a commitment to honesty, and transparency might be part of the equation. The gravity of the situation surely indicates that even more spin isn't the answer, even though Bruce Hawker an ALP connected consultant told the ABC this morning that his advice to the Premier would be that it is only early days in the election cycle, so don't panic.

The NSW Government has stared down for at least 17 years, calls for review of Freedom of Information legislation, and for strong and enduring leadership on greater openness in the conduct of government functions. If the label 'Secret State' fits, the Government seems to have worn it, almost with pride.

Five months ago the Independent Member for Sydney and Lord Mayor, Clover Moore asked the Premier the following questions:

With regard to the NSW Ombudsman 2005-2006 Annual Report:

  1. Is the NSW Government aware that in 2004-05 NSW had the lowest percentage of full Freedom of Information releases compared to all mainland states?
  2. Is the NSW Government aware that in 2004-05 NSW had the highest percentage of partial Freedom of Information releases compared to all mainland states?
  3. Is the NSW Government aware that over the past 10 years, the percentage of full Freedom of Information releases in NSW has been reducing?
  4. What assessment has the NSW Government made of the NSW Ombudsman's call for a comprehensive review of the Freedom of Information Act?
  5. To what extent is the NSW Government committed to increasing the percentage of full Freedom of Information releases?
  6. What action will the NSW Government take to increase the percentage of full Freedom of Information releases?
Four months ago the Premier replied:
1 to (6) The Director General of the Department of Premier and Cabinet is meeting with the Ombudsman to discuss his concerns regarding the need for a review of the Freedom of Information Act. The recent release of the new FOI Manual, a joint publication of the Department of Premier and Cabinet and the Ombudsman, is a further step in helping to improve decision-making in this area. The manual ensures that all agencies are fully aware of their obligations and, particularly in relation to exemptions, that they apply the Act.
There hasn't been a peep out of the Government since, and contrary to the Premier's view, the the FOI manual is poorly designed, complex and confusing and does little to achieve the objectives of the Act of extending as far as possible the rights of the public to access government information.

2 comments:

  1. Peter, have you heard of this?

    http://www.geelongadvertiser.com.au/article/2008/02/21/11575_opinion.html

    It is unreal. If Government Departments do not provide you with the documents that you request under FOI and you have to file more than one FOI application to get access to documents, they can deem you vexatious and ban you from getting the information.

    This is an administration set up to organise cover ups!

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  2. I don't think its quite as bad as this. The amendment bill includes a definition of the types of things that constitute vexatious conduct. Just making more than one application wont be sufficient to get you into this category. The Attorney General must consent to an application by the agency to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal for a declaration that a person be deemed vexatious. So there are a number of safeguards.

    ReplyDelete