Search This Blog

Friday, October 23, 2009

NSW Ombudsman sees a glimmer, but big job ahead.

The Annual Report of the NSW Ombudsman released yesterday has plenty to say about the public service, including a concern that "(t)oo many public servants think integrity is an old-fashioned, optional concept." The report on the Ombudsman's work on Freedom of Information starts at page 95. Not all grim news. Complaints about FOI matters down about 10% including a decrease of 50% in July 2009.
" In our view, this trend may be attributable to greater openness by agencies following the Premier’s statements of support for a review of the FOI Act and issuing of a memorandum in October 2008 encouraging proactive release of information by government agencies. Another likely reason for the decrease is that the NSW Police Force has substantially reduced their backlog of FOI applications, which has in turn reduced the number of complaints we received about delays in determining FOI applications."
However complaints from third parties objecting to disclosure of documents were up, and the shift in gears appears to mostly be with respect to matters that are more straightforward.
"The largest drop in complaints has been mainly those about delays and less contentious or clear cut merit decisions. We are still finding that agencies are reluctant to release documents which may be embarrassing or reveal matters of maladministration or failure to take appropriate action. Consequently, complaints which disclose broader issues of maladministration have increased in both number and complexity and have taken up considerable resources."
The report provides detail of investigations into the Roads and Traffic Authority, open disclosure practices in two Area Health Services, the Board of Studies and the University of Newcastle that illustrate failure to fully and properly implement the law.

With this report The Ombudsman is moving out of direct involvement after 20 years of dealing with FOI complaints, with the Information Commissioner to take over as the Government Information (Public Access) Act comes into force in 2010. The Ombudsman says the Office will be watching what flows in practice from its important catalyst for change, the own-motion review of the FOI Act in February this year, and for broader instances of maladministration.

The Ombudsman Bruce Barbour and his predecessors since 1989 all deserve congratulations for standing up for the right to know when few others did during much of this time, and long-time staff members Deputy Ombudsman Chris Wheeler and Wayne Kosh who have been working on these matters for all that time deserve a special mention.

The Ombudsman also had a few words yesterday to say about a "don't give it to me in writing" request for advice that surfaced in a parliamentary inquiry into the Department of Planning.

On with the culture change.

No comments:

Post a Comment