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Friday, September 12, 2008

Victorian Ombudsman cites FOI and whistleblower failings

The Victorian Ombudsman in his annual report tabled in Parliament urges the Government to avoid complacency regarding public sector ethical standards, and in the usual polite and discrete language that ombudsmen use, gave the Government a kick in the pants about Freedom of Infomation.It's a sad comment that 25 years after the legislation was introduced in Victoria the Ombudsman is still lamenting the fact that some involved in administration of the law still don't get it. This from the overview chapter:

"Cultural change is also needed in relation to the administration of freedom of information. In a number of jurisdictions, the basic underlying values of openness and accountability in the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (the FOI Act) are still not properly understood, resulting in an often defensive response to FOI requests. This is despite the fact that the intent of the
FOI Act,and the Attorney-General’s guidelines in relation to it, stress openness and transparency as the primary motivating values that should guide officers in their actions."

The Ombudsman apparently has bent a few ears in government,with some success, over unsatisfactory whistleblower protection legislation:

"The Whistleblowers Protection Act 2001 is an important means by which corrupt behaviour can be brought to light. The objectives of the Act are to encourage and facilitate whistleblowers to make disclosures of improper conduct; to establish a system to investigate these matters; and to protect whistleblowers from any adverse consequences as a result of making a disclosure. I am responsible for assessing, managing and investigating whistleblower disclosures. I have gained considerable experience in the operation of the Act and in handling the challenges that it presents in fulfilling my role.Transparency should be one of the Act’s principal aims and Parliament has an important role in ensuring that the Act is effective. Unfortunately the current legislation is unduly complex and inhibiting to individuals. Some provisions in fact work against the principles of transparency and accountability. I have therefore recommended to the Attorney-General that a review of the Act be undertaken. The Attorney-General has agreed to the review and an interdepartmental committee has been established. I consider this review
to be timely."

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