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Monday, March 29, 2010

FOI reform record fails to score a mention in NSW leaders debate

The NSW leaders televised debate on Friday saw Premier Keneally proclaim her pride in leading the Labor government despite its current public standing and record, and Opposition leader O'Farrell  making much of his  five priorities  which include a number of commitments to make government more accountable, including an independent audit of the state's finances, and commitments on election financing and donations, lobbyist regulation, Freedom of Information and the ICAC.

On one of the rare occasions transparency came up directly O'Farrell for a moment tried to defend the indefensible-Opposition support for an offence provision where a newspaper or magazine publishes information that reformats and uses publicly available information on the My school website - before stating he was prepared to look at other responses. The Premier made short work on him on this one.

The Opposition's policy statement "Reform Freedom of Information laws and establish an Open Government Commissioner" released on Friday is reproduced below because some of you will want to avoid a hard to get rid of pop-up designed to get you to subscribe.

In promising overhaul of the FOI act and open government changes including an Open Government Commissioner in the Ombudsman's Office, no cost applications  and enforced publication of grants, you would be forgiven for thinking the Opposition missed last year's reform process and the passage through Parliament of the replacement for FOI, the Government Information (Public Access) Act (yet to commence), and the creation of the yet to be filled position of Information Commissioner. I'm sure they were there but not a mention. Then again the Premier didn't think her predecessor's initiative in pushing these changes through Parliament was worth bragging about during the debate either. 

The Opposition policy statement:
The community has the right to openness, accountability and transparency when it comes to government decision-making and information. Community scrutiny of government – including through increased access to government information – both protects the public interest and propels better public sector decision-making and performance. In government the NSW Liberals & Nationals will pursue a new era of open government.
 This will include reforming the Freedom of Information (FOI) process based on the following basic principles and initiatives:
  • - pro-active disclosure of government information;
  • - one-stop online shop for information from all government agencies;
  • - enforced public disclosure of government contracts and grants; and
  • - no cost for FOI applications and the establishment of mandatory deadlines.
We will also appoint a fully independent Open Government Commissioner within the Office of the NSW Ombudsman who will:
  • - play an independent ‘watchdog’ role and drive the information-sharing performance of Government agencies toward the highest standards of openness, accountability and transparency;
  • - provide citizens with advice and hear complaints on FOI and other government information matters; and
  • - report annually on the government’s overall performance and on the comparative performance of government agencies, including total number of requests, number of requests complied with, turnaround times, number of complaints and number of complaints upheld or denied.
The people of NSW deserve open government.
 Amen to that.

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