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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Talking up RTI in Queensland

Speeches this week by David Solomon and Queensland Information Commissioner Julie Kinross on separate occasions in Brisbane are both of interest. They cover some common and different ground, with Kinross providing record managers with some historical context for Freedom of Information reform, and explaining the broad scope of change underway as a result of the Right to Information Act 2009 (RTI) across many parts of agencies that demand the attention and leadership from the executive level.

Dr Solomon's Right to Know Day speech, "The sky didn't fall in", included an account of the developments leading to the RTI Act, and the flow-on effects in other jurisdictions.

He also commented on an issue emerging from his other involvements as Queensland Integrity Commissioner and member of the Federal Government's Gov 2.0 TaskForce: how little community awareness there is about integrity and accountability measures, and the need for
initiatives to increase awareness of government decision-making processes, structures and policies. And that the availability of information is not an end in itself- it's the means to improving democratic practices:
"Of course the fact that agencies proactively make more information available to people, that they adopt publication schemes that enable people to better understand what the agency is doing and how it works, that they develop websites that are easily accessible and searchable, that they release information administratively rather than forcing everyone making an inquiry to use the RTI processes – all these aspects of the “push” model won’t necessarily mean that people are better informed about how the government works, what processes and institutions it has developed to try to ensure integrity and accountability. People have to want to know, they need to be motivated to seek information whether from websites or other forms of publication. Establishing transparency is one thing – persuading people to look through the portal and read what is there may be another. That motivational task is probably a matter for government, particularly if the high ideals of the Right to Information legislation are to be met, and it will probably need to begin in the education system. Ensuring a better flow and availability of government information is not just a good in its own right. It has an important purpose in the scheme of government."
Dr Solomon concluded:
"The message is that RTI is the beginning. It provides a framework for more developments, for better communication between the government, its agencies and the people. Ultimately its success will be judged by the extent to which Parliament’s aims in passing the legislation are satisfied. A final word about our new RTI Act. What is does is create a framework for the evolution of a better-informed community, where the government is more open and responsive. In our report we stressed the importance of cultural change and political leadership in driving that change. There can be no doubt that the Premier is anxious to ensure that RTI succeeds. It is to be hoped that the most recent message she sent to all government agencies on RTI principles, gets through to everyone involved in its administration."

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