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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Auditor General calls for more transparency from Queensland GOCs

The Queensland Auditor General in Report 7/2009 on Government Owned Corporations (GOCS) tabled in Parliament this week is critical of transparency levels. This from the Executive Summary:
"My Auditor-General Report No. 2 for 2006, concluded that the average level of maturity of performance measurement and reporting systems at GOCs was higher than the average level of maturity in the budget sector. Three years on, the GOC sector has made limited progress in implementing the 2006 recommendations. Of the original nine recommendations made to the Treasury Department, only one has been fully implemented and six only partially implemented. In my view, Parliament and other stakeholders do not receive an adequate standard of information on GOC performance in a number of areas, which include a lack of disclosure on forward plans and longer term performance targets. This makes it difficult to determine how GOCs have performed over time and whether longer term performance objectives have been achieved.

I also have concern over the amount of information related to GOC performance that is deemed to be commercial-in-confidence and therefore not published, or not published on a timely basis. The Right to Information Act 2009 is part of a broader ‘push’ model of proactive and routine release of information by the government. Non-disclosure of information on the basis of commercial confidentiality needs to be balanced against the prime consideration for transparent performance reporting and accountability to Parliament for the use of public funds."
The Queensland Right to Information Act does not apply to all GOCs. The Solomon Review proposed that all Government Business Enterprises (primarily GOCs) should be subject to the Right To Information Act but acknowledged that many documents might not be accessible once the public interest test was applied. The Government response was to bring some within the scope of the Act but to continue to exclude others such as electricity generation companies (CS Energy,Tarong Energy and Stanwell Corporation), the trading activities of Ergon Energy
Queensland; and Queensland Investment Corporation; and Queensland Rail’s competitive commercial activities, such as coal, bulk and general freight services.

The Auditor General however was making a general point picking up on this paragraph in the Government's response to the Solomon Report:
"These legislative changes (The Right to Information Act) will be supplemented by increased publication of information relating to GOCs as part of the government’s move to a ‘push’ model of information sharing, which will be coordinated through the Office of Government Owned Corporations in Queensland Treasury."
The Treasury response to the Auditor General's draft report was that it is getting on with the job and that standards for some GOCs need to be in line with the private rather than the public sector.

The last word-so far- goes to the Auditor General:
"...the relatively large amount of information contained in a number of the Statements of Corporate Intent which is currently released at the end of the reporting period raises questions as to the level of commercial confidentiality which existed at the beginning of the period.

The Right to Information Act 2009 is part of a broader ‘push’ model of proactive and routine release of information by the government. When considering the preamble and the objectives of the Act, the Parliament’s intention to emphasise and promote the right to government information is clear. A number of reasons are spelt out in the Act as to why government information is to be made available. Schedule 4 of the Act provides factors for determining the public interest and include: to promote open discussion of public affairs and enhance the government’s accountability; to contribute to positive and informed debate on important issues or matters of serious interest; to inform the community of the Government’s operations; to ensure effective oversight of expenditure of public funds; to assist inquiry into possible deficiencies in the conduct or administration of an agency or official; to provide the reason for a government decision and any background or contextual information that informed the decision.

These matters promote openness in government and increase the participation of members of the community in democratic processes leading to better informed decision-making and improved public administration and the quality of government decision-making. Although the Act provides exemptions to allow the non-release of certain GOC information, the exemptions should be applied within the context of the overall intentions of the legislation for the release of information in the public interest."

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