Search This Blog

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

FOI separate world from Advisory Committee proposals for creating more open government

The Advisory Committee report to the Prime Minister Ahead of the Game: Blueprint for Reform of Australian Government Administration released this week identifies four broad areas where Australian Public Service performance can be improved and nine interdependent reforms, supported by twenty-eight recommendations to deliver these outcomes.

One area for performance improvement is "forging a stronger relationship with citizens through better delivery of services and through greater involvement of citizens in their government." The discussion of relevant issues in Chapter 3 [17-19]  on how the APS is performing and how it can improve in this area is brief and narrow. 

Freedom of information doesn't rate  a mention at all. The only reference to culture is this quote

The Government 2.0 Taskforce also found that: “...the existing public service culture of hierarchical control and direction must change sufficiently to encourage and reward engagement.”

Terry Moran

This seems to translate as "easing back on attempts at the top to micro-control and carefully and conservatively manage information flows," a problem emanating from ministers' offices as well as the public service hierarchy. But there's no direct mention of the oft commented upon culture of secrecy, or the environment shaped in part by in excess of 500 secrecy provisions (an ALRC report sits on the Attorney General's desk on what should be done about this), or the perception that political sensitivity and over responsiveness to ministers' concerns about disclosure has dogged Freedom of Information for years. There is no link to FOI reform legislation now before the Parliament after over two years gestation within the agency of the Advisory Committee Chair, Terry Moran of Prime Minister and Cabinet, that has the same objective as one of the nine reforms, "Creating more open government." 

You wouldn't know from this that the FOI reform bill proposes new objects for the act: to give the Australian community access to information held by the Government  by (a) requiring agencies to publish the information; and (b) providing for a right of access to documents." And that the "Parliament intends, by these objects, "to promote Australia’s representative democracy by contributing towards increasing public participation in Government processes, with a view to promoting better-informed decision-making....."

It goes unnoticed that the reform legislation has other positives that may promote more open government including obligations to publish more information on the internet and give weight to the public interest as expressed in the objects, and those that favour disclosure to inform public discussion and debate.

Many of these potential gaps were apparent in the paper published by the Group last September. At least the Gov 2.0 Task Force that didn't rate a mention then has got a guernsey this time round.

You might think that FOI and some of these other issues would rate at least a mention, accompanied by a call for public service leaders to get on board to turn the secret ship of state around and to support speedy fully resourced implementation action once the legislation is passed.

In Chapter 4, Reform 2 "Creating more open government" the report includes just two recommendations  [38-40]: to enable citizens to collaborate in policy and service design, and conduct a citizen survey. There is a swag of actions to be undertaken by PM&C and Department of Finance  with no mention of the Information Commissioner. A lot of it involves back to the drawing board, for example to develop advice for Government consideration of matters already addressed to some degree by the Gov 2.0 Task Force: 

–– Making public sector data open, accessible and reusable;
–– Identifying what public service data could be made publicly available and by when, taking into account national security, copyright and privacy laws;
–– Mechanisms that would enable citizens to use public sector data in new and innovative ways to benefit all, as occurred in the recent Government 2.0 mash-up competition, in line with privacy, secrecy and national security laws; and
–– Options to develop further the website.

No comments:

Post a Comment