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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

While Irish eyes are prying, who's looking at the public record?
Staying in the North Atlantic and with digital information for a moment, John Lee in FOI'd again for Irish Central, details the exploits of Gavin Sheridan who is using FOI and the internet to open up to scrutiny and publicise aspects of Irish government operations that haven't seen much of the light of day. Sheridan and colleague Mark Coughlan, as their The Story website proclaims, are "dedicated to sharing documents, combing and combining data and promoting transparency in public life: an experiment in journalism and crowdsourcing hoping to shed light on the government. If you’re spending the Irish taxpayers’ money, you’re on the radar." And they're making a dollar somehow as well.

Journalists everywhere obviously trawl the public record and find newsworthy bits as government agencies at all levels use the internet to publish more information than ever-Anna Patty's front pager today based on information from the government's Building the Education Revolution website is a case in point. However the mind set in some quarters is still that there's no story if information isn't secret or confidential, and of course it's true governments aren't in the habit of (intentionally) volunteering bad or embarassing news. The "citizen journalist" out there in the Blogosphere helps uncover some gems in many areas as well.  Open Australia has done a great job to bring debate in our Federal Parliament into more sunlight, and recently in getting an updated version of the Register of Interests online. Gov 2.0  may deliver on its promise of much more of this.

Even before Tasmania, NSW and the Commonwealth follow Queensland into the mandatory proactive publication era, who knows what a forensic eye like Sheridan's might bring to light after, for starters, close examination of:

The above mentioned Open Australia Register of Interests of Federal Parliamentarians.

Anything still to be gleaned from My School.

The Queensland Cabinet Documents webpage.

Queensland Government agency  registers of gifts or benefits of more than $150 which must be published as part of an agency’s publication scheme each quarter.  Here's the Department of the Premier and Cabinet  Register-for others see these publication schemes.

South Australian members of parliament travel reports.
Commonwealth Government Grants.

While I'm told we have a long way to go in this area, the Therapeutic Goods Administration AusPAR website, which says it "provides information about the evaluation of a prescription medicine and the considerations that led the TGA to approve or not approve an application."

Despite a good going over already of Defence contracts by Linton Besser of the Sydney Morning Herald, contract notes of other agencies published on the Austender website.

NSW Food Authority Penalty Notice list of eateries issued with a breach notice for failure to comply with food hygiene standards.

NSW Department of Health Monthly Hospital Performance Reports.

I'm sure there are plenty of other underexplored caches out there, so happy to add to this list - even happier if some of you sift all this to find the bits the rest of us deserve to know.

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