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Monday, September 13, 2010

Minister for FOI stands at number 22, integrity scrapes in at 29

The Gillard Government has nailed its flag to the mast of governing differently (and hopefully better), faced with the situation of no guaranteed majority on any vote in the House of Representatives except where the Budget or a vote of no confidence is concerned, and with specific commitments to independent members and The Greens including on how parliament will operate. And with the Prime Minister's acknowledgment that she heard the peoples' message loud and clear about the need for more open, transparent and accountable government.

So integrity and accountability issues have to be high on the agenda.

Just how these things are to be managed in the Gillard Ministry announced over the weekend remains to be seen. What is clear is that no one at the most senior level (other than the PM) has overall responsibility for policy in these areas. Freedom of Information (and Privacy) have been assigned to Home Affairs and Justice Minister Brendan O'Connor, an experienced member of the outer ministry, now ranked 22 in the the Prime Minister's list of 30 ministers.This suggests these functions move back from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet to the Attorney General's Department, a bad idea when suggested by shadow attorney general Brandis during the campaign, and still so in my opinion.(Update: Not just a false alarm, we've ended up with a Minister for Freedom of Information.)

The rest of the integrity issues appear (the Administrative Arrangements Order with the details is yet to be published) to have been assigned to Gary Gray, as Special Minister of State, listed 29 of the 30 ministers, with the function presumably still located in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.
In the First Rudd government, Senator Faulkner, as Special Minister of State and Cabinet Secretary was listed fifth in standing in the cabinet, and brought a well earned reputation for honesty and integrity, and years of demonstrated interest in and knowledge of the issues that suggested clout in this area. Faulkner was succeeded in 2009 by Senator Ludwig who didn't bring the same qualities or reputation but was a former shadow attorney general, and was and remained a member of cabinet. Putting combined integrity issues in the Prime Minister's department gave them new central agency status.

Prime Minister Gillard has separated the functions, FOI and Privacy to O'Connor, so far unspecified other functions to Gray as Special Minister of State, with Mark Dreyfus (who at the bar was an expert in Freedom of Information, and contributed to debate, well at least supported the government line, on FOI in parliament, and chaired a parliamentary inquiry into whistleblowing) as Cabinet Secretary. Dreyfus will combine the job with Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency. None of the three are cabinet ministers. 

We wish them all well. As O'Connor settles into the job, privacy reform is looking untidy and unsatisfactory; FOI reform in practical terms is still in the "potentially promising" but "could do a lot better" category. There is an ALRC report on reform of secrecy laws that the Government has had since last December in AG's somewhere.

On the broader integrity front, Gray may prove to be an outstanding choice. Dennis Shanahan in The Australian describes him as a relative newcomer who did not flourish under Rudd and says he is  "perfectly suited to Special Minister of State." Elsewhere Gray is mentioned simply as one of the "faceless men" behind the ousting of Kevin Rudd.

Apart from the difficulty of exercising influence arising from (lack of) standing in the hierarchy, Gray appears to have a lot of catching up to do, having not said a word during the last parliament on relevant issues - political donations, lobbying, government advertising, parliamentary entitlements, archives, records etc- now within his domain.

However as a former ALP National Secretary and one time director of corporate affairs for Woodside, Gray is sure to know plenty from those lives about a couple of the issues. He was made an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2003, for service to the Australian Labor Party and to politics "through the introduction of modern campaign techniques (handy when advancing the issue of truth in campaign advertising, an issue for attention as agreed with The Greens), fundraising protocols for all political parties (ditto), affirmative action guidelines, and by strengthening the party's organisational and financial structure." On lobbying, he made it clear in this statement that while he had been prepared to consider at one stage representing James Hardie, this hadn't transpired. (Thanks to Open Australia for the Hansard links.)

Gray is a first time minister having been Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Infrastructure with Responsibility for Northern Regional Australia and Local Government in the Rudd Ministry, and the Dreyfus appointment is a first for him.

In the fullness of time....

1 comment:

  1. Johan Lidberg9:38 am

    In the fullness of time indeed! At least the Information Commissioner's Office is happening and the FOI reforms did pass.
    Thanks for the summary and background on the new ministers.
    I'm putting in for ARC funding to evaluate and assess all state FOI systems and the new federal regime in 2012.
    Will be in touch re this.