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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

2020 Summit submission

Here are my 500 words submitted today to the PM's 2020 Summit on the Governance topic.

Identify those provisions in the Constitution that are outdated (eg Section 59 gives the Queen power to disallow any law made by the Australian Parliament within one year of assent) or inadequate (eg Section 51 gives the Commonwealth authority over lighthouses and buoys, but makes no mention of the environment).

Promote public understanding of these issues, and the reasons why change is desirable.

Include in the debate the republic and effective protection of human rights.

Clear up uncertainty about roles and responsibilities of the different tiers of government with constitutional reform where necessary.

Appoint an adviser to the Prime Minister responsible for enhancing democratic practices. The Prime Minister should set targets and report progress.

Promote a better understanding among the voters of the importance of democratic principles and participation in public affairs.

Ensure that the political parties who control who stands for election, and frequently how members vote in parliament, have an obligation to have regard for the need for parliament to be broadly representative of the community as a whole.

Proscribe party fund raising such as payments to sit with ministers at events, which are inconsistent with the principle of equal access to decision makers.

Enshrine the principles of open and transparent government in the day to day operations of government agencies.

Require the release of research to promote discussion and debate on policy issues that impact on the public.

Reconsider the need for the 80 separate secrecy provisions in Commonwealth laws and repeal Section 70 of the Crimes Act that imposes strict liability for unauthorised disclosure of any “fact” acquired by an officer in the course of duties.

Make information promptly and publicly available on the web about the allocation and use of public funds, grants to organisations and contracts, the register of interests of members of parliament and their travel and expenditure details.

Recognise that in many areas government information is a national asset that could be further utilised by the non government sector to achieve economic and social advancement. Examine the costs and benefits of current limitations on access, copyright and cost recovery policies and what could emerge if the government provided such an incentive for the development of an information economy.

Modernise the Freedom of Information Act to reflect the digital world through a right of access to information rather than to paper-based documents. Simplify the Act to require disclosure unless identifiable harm would result. Impose administrative sanctions for any failure to comply with the open government principles of the legislation. Recognise publicly outstanding performance by individuals who through release of information promote public debate and discussion of government policy proposals.

Extend the Act to cover any organisation involved in the provision of services on behalf of a government agency, and any privatised body that conducts functions that were previously the responsibility of a government agency.

Provide that a failure to respond to a request for information is deemed to be a decision to grant access, unless the information commissioner authorises non disclosure.

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