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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

No sign of money for the new era of open government

I'm no expert when it comes to analysing the detail of government accounts, but my foray tonight into the 2008 Budget, looking for some reassurance about the Federal Government's plans to get on with Freedom of Information reform, matched by funding, came up with zilch, in other words, a big zero.

Any initiatives involving new expenditure in connection with FOI or privacy would be expected to show up in the Budget Statement of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, now the agency responsible for such things. If as the Government has been saying, it intends to establish an Information Commissioner to provide leadership and take over review of FOI determinations (one of a raft of promised changes), you would expect some allocation of funds for the year ahead, or in the next four years of forward estimates. After all, a properly funded office is going to cost more than a few dollars.

The allocations for expenditure on election commitments in the Prime Minister's Department contain no mention of any funds for this purpose . Maybe there will be enough in petty cash to cover it (hardly encouraging), or it's intended a special allocation of funds will be sought later when legislation creating the office is passed, but in any event its no cause for celebration for those looking for signs of serious and early intent of change.

The "outputs" for the Department(PDF 177KB) include:"Freedom of Information and Privacy Policy:Provide advice, briefing and support to the Prime Minister and government on national
and international freedom of information and privacy policy," but there is no specific allocation of funds, and the performance measure is whether the minister is satisfied with the advice. No mention here of any outcome along the lines of "enhancing the quality of democracy by ensuring accountability for government performance and the use of public money, and facilitating citizen involvement in government decision making", more's the pity.

Somehow the commitment to culture change and the re-examination of fees won't according to these calculations involve any damage to the bottom line, if they come to pass in the next four years.

The Privacy Commissioner gets a budget statement of her own (PDF 121KB).
By my reading, the Office will have 10% less funds next year than this, despite what can be expected to be a big agenda following the Australian Law Reform Commission final report on its review of privacy laws, due at the end of this month.

I'll be interested to see what the experts make of the bigger picture tomorrow.

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