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Friday, August 14, 2009

Faulkner on transparency improvements at Defence

He's on the case: some extracts from a speech, Governance and Defence, Some Early Impressions, by Minister for Defence Senator Faulkner yesterday that will do something to reassure those critical of the department over excessive secrecy:
"I have always held the view that transparency is crucial to good governance. Transparency is essential to accountability. When I came into this portfolio I was aware that Defence had been criticised in the past for failing to provide enough openness and transparency. I have found a great willingness across the Department, to embrace the Government’s reform agenda, and to look for areas in which transparency can be enhanced. At the departmental level, three key reforms, improving transparency both internally and externally, have been put in place.First, a new position of Chief Audit Executive has been created to upgrade Defence’s internal audit function...Secondly, an ongoing budget remediation process is underway, planned for completion in the 2009-10 Additional Estimates...Thirdly, the approval process for major projects has been reformed following the recommendations of the Mortimer review to better align acquisitions with strategic priorities

Another example comes from a very different area. At the operational level, CDF, Angus Houston, held a media roundtable with a number of journalists on 21 July this year, to discuss the steps the ADF is taking to avoid civilian casualties, and provide more information to the public.

On 1 July, I released the Public Defence Capability Plan 2009, which included more detailed information about particular proposals than past DCPs and, given its more realistic time frame, should provide a more reliable and more certain base for planning. This year’s Public DCP contains information on 110 projects or phases of projects, $60 billion worth.I also announced a project to re-examine the way we provide defence planning information to industry and the public, including the value, the nature and the content of the Public DCP, with a view to providing not only more, but more useful, information. Thirdly, for the first time the Government released the Priority Industry Capabilities. These were previously unpublished– but now we have shared them with industry and the public.

While these are all important steps, transparency and accountability are also questions of Departmental process and culture. And we are moving to address these as well."

Specifically on Freedom of Information, the Minister said:

" .. you might know I have a particular interest in FOI. Defence has been criticised for not meeting Freedom of Information (FOI) deadlines. In 2007-08, 67 % of federal government FOI responses were completed within the 30-day statutory deadline. Defence only met the deadline in 38 % of their responses for that financial year. That figure fell to 15 % in 2008-09. I accept that FOI will not always be an easy area for Defence to manage. Some issues are inherent in the complexity of the requests received. Some are associated with the sensitivity or classification of information. But Defence itself has identified its FOI performance as an issue and has taken structural steps to address it. On 9 June 2009, the Secretary and the CDF created a new branch to coordinate FOI matters, as well as records management and archives administration. Change in this area is also cultural. Key steps undertaken by this new branch include improved communication, visibility and accountability for FOI requests within the senior levels of the Department, FOI training for decision makers and the development of a dedicated FOI database to monitor the progress of requests. Staff from this branch will also work through the FOI process with action areas to ensure that requests are processed as soon and as efficiently as possible.

I believe that with these reforms Defence will be in a good position to deliver on FOI and transparency reforms, within the requirements of national security."

The Minister went on to discuss in detail, in the interests of transparency, some of the challenges facing him and the department on specific big ticket items.

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