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Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Transparency still a struggle despite the law.

It's not clear from this report about a broader local council issue whether the Sydney Morning Herald was or wasn't sidetracked by the response from Burwood Council chief architect Albert Becerra:
"When asked for access to his pecuniary interest declaration, Mr Becerra said the Herald would have to submit a freedom-of-information request."
For the last 16 years Section 12 of the NSW Local Government Act has stipulated that"(e)veryone is entitled to inspect the current version of," among a whole raft of documents free of charge, "returns of interests of councillors, designated persons and delegates." Chief architect and other senior council staff are certain to be designated persons.

The Council's website acknowledges availability: it says all you need do to see returns is "Contact the Governance Section within Council." But nothing posted on the web. Perhaps there is scope for looking again at the level of detail of interests that need to be declared by those in local government, but in this day and age it's hard to justify the "come to the office during business hours" approach built into this and many other aspects of our supposedly transparent systems of accountability.

The issue last week was the need for an official on-line seachable register of interests of federal parliamentarians.It's the same at state government level. In the NSW Parliament the latest register of members' financial interests has just been tabled. I can find only one media report-by Brian Robins in the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday. Only the declarations of two members get a mention- Matt Brown is 99% of the story and there is a passing reference to George Souris. There are something like 140 members. Want to know about the others?- off to Macquarie St Sydney to inspect the paper records- business hours, of course. We should expect a lot better at all three levels of government.

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