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Friday, October 02, 2009

More disclosure might lead to less questions about public servant travel

Damien Brown in The Mercury reports that questions in State Parliament in Hobart yesterday about travel expenses of Health Secretary David Roberts had the Minister and Deputy Premier Lara Giddings crying foul, suggesting professional public servants would be discouraged from relocating to Tasmania by "appalling" and "disgusting" questioning.

Hmm, there I was hoping governments and senior public servants there and elsewhere would be working on the basis that the publication of this sort of information on a regular basis is one of the things that might be expected in the new or coming era of proactive disclosure. As Attorney General, Minister Giddings has carriage of that matter in Tasmania (referred to here yesterday) as well.

Brown reports:

"Mr Roberts' 60 intrastate, interstate and international trips between December 2007 and May this year were part of a $110,000 travel bill for Tasmania's top health bureaucrats obtained by Mr Whiteley (Opposition Health spokesman) under Freedom of Information legislation. The figures also featured the travel movements of deputy secretary Alice Birchall.

Mr Whiteley defended his questioning."I asked them questions. Can't I do that?" he said in Parliament."All I am doing is asking questions and for you to justify these expenses -- they are massive expenses. You must be joking if you think we can't ask questions."

The Minister said:

"We have had FoI after FoI on two specific individuals -- that is what I call a personal attack. Why are we not asking questions of all of our public servants?
I'm not against travel when its necessary and useful, but the question for the Minister is why not publish this information regularly- and for ministers as well. I doubt the slightest slowdown in recruitment of public servants as a result. Anyone concerned should try private sector transparency demands for top executives these days.

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