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Monday, March 22, 2010

Actions belie big promises of open and transparent government

In a weekend in which two incumbent state Labor governments suffered swings of 7 and 12 per cent, suggesting regardless of the result both are on the nose, and the SA government without waiting for the poll to be declared, is in the news today kicking off a Labor listens" campaign, commentary in the weekend papers about developments in other jurisdictions wasn't encouraging:

Paul Austin in The Age Door shuts on open policy

"Once the champion of democratic reform, Brumby's Labor is now a liability. The John Brumby democracy project is running out of puff. Once proud champions of democratic reform, the Premier and his party are now impediments to a better Victorian polity. Brumby and Victorian Labor have a distinguished record on improving the quality of our democracy and enhancing the openness and accountability of public office - which makes it all the sadder that recent events suggest this Premier and this government have little more to offer in this sphere."

The Canberra Times Chipping away at the walls of secrecy (no link available) in welcoming the Government's plans for whistleblower protection reform, commented:
"Legislation intended to open up government in Australia to greater public scrutiny, while laudable, will not make headway unless ministers, heads of departments and senior public service managers lead by example. On most of the evidence, this is not happening. Indeed, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd last week cited cabinet privilege for his refusal to disclose letters from Environment Minister Peter Garrett regarding compliance issues with the failed home insulation program, and all governments before this one have successfully quarantined documents from disclosure under freedom of information laws, often for no other reason than a desire not to be embarrassed. Likewise, a culture of secrecy (and hostility to whistleblowers) within the senior levels of the public service is well entrenched. The whistleblower legislation will succeed in removing a chip or two from the Chinese walls erected by government and bureaucracy, but only concerted action from the top will bring them down."
 Max Suich in The Weekend Australian Spymaster stirs spectre of cover foreign activities about "the continuing and absurd shroud of secrecy that surrounds ASIS, with agents overseas, and its history" about events going on 40 years  ago, and excessive secrecy in the release of archived documents:
"In the US, it is now accepted that much of the dirty work that the CIA carried out was authorised and often ordered by the White House, from president Dwight Eisenhower onwards. We have never had any clear understanding here of what ministers have sought from the secret services and what have been independent enterprises. Nor do we have a clear account of how Australian and foreign intelligence agencies affected the political and diplomatic relations of Australia with key nations such as the US, Indonesia, China and Japan."
The Sydney Morning Herald in an editorial The case for coalmining is not entirely open cut  concluding a series on coal mining in NSW that revealed, among other things, a deeply flawed approval system that lacks transparency, and has no central body responsible for managing the process.
"..what is needed is a new spirit of openness and transparency in the mining approvals process. The government is merely the custodian of natural resources, which it only owns on behalf of us all. Community consultation should be a key component of government decision-making right from the start, before a licence is granted. For too long the balance of power has been stacked in favour of mining companies and against local communities. A website giving transparent, up-to-date information about all upcoming licence tenders and mine proposals should be established as a first step."
You would think this would be a walk up, even before the start of the new promised era of proactive disclosure under new laws, sadly yet to take effect.

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