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Monday, March 07, 2011

NSW set for a much needed new start on integrity

I don't need to waste your time or mine on what a re-elected ALP government would do if it wins the NSW state election on 26 March. It's not even a remote possibility. Attorney General Hatzistergos speaking in the Premier's stead to the Institute of Public Administration (NSW) about the Government's vision and plans for the future of the public sector last month had  nothing about the future to say, The Attorney said the Premier's Department thought it too political to provide the usual briefing materials. Left to his own devices, he appears to have found himself up the creek without a paddle.

The Opposition on the other hand knows public sector reform and restoring professionalism, trust and integrity are urgent priorities.

Speaking at a similar forum a few days earlier (use the link above) Opposition leader Barry O'Farrell reiterated a commitment to the independence and integrity of the public sector; clear and unambiguous strategic priorities and performance expectations; and the creation of a new service culture in NSW. A soon to be established public service commission will lead by

establishing and protecting public sector values and ethical standards, things that have been debased and eroded by political interference over the past decade and a half. This will include strengthening and encouraging honesty, accountability, innovation and good conduct, and ensuring there are appropriate sanctions available where there are breaches of ethical standards. Secondly it will focus on recruitment and retention. The NSW public sector must compete with other jurisdictions and the private sector, as an employer of first choice, to retain and attract the best and brightest individuals. The Commission will be tasked to develop appropriate incentives, training and career development opportunities for existing public servants and a recruitment program that highlights the benefits of a public service career. Importantly, people will work to clear and unambiguous goals, and the Commissioner will contribute to establishing management and accountability frameworks ensuring public sector performance is aligned to delivery on clear strategic priorities. And finally it will uphold the principle of merit. It will ensure that public service employment decisions are based on fair and objective assessments of ability, and that opportunities are openly advertised. Moreover we intend to move quickly to establish the Public Service Commission. We will convene an expert Working Group to develop and recommend structural, management, evaluation and compliance details to effectively implement the policy.

O'Farrell made special mention of

"attacking the unhealthy, insidious culture which has developed in recent years which has seen family members of Ministers and Labor Members being given an array of plum jobs in Ministerial offices. Government simply cannot function properly when there are all kinds of personal and family relationships between Ministers and Ministerial staff. I am determined that this nepotism must stop. If the NSW Liberals & Nationals win office on March 26, we will ensure that family members will be barred from securing jobs in Ministerial offices unless they pass the most rigorous screening tests.

O'Farrell didn't go into any of the other elements of the Liberal Party's platform on Accountability and Government Reform. All the expected topics at least get a mention there, although some proposals, for example lobbying reform (light years from what the ICAC proposed a few months back), are modest in the extreme.

On transparency issues, the Opposition policy is dated, and doesn't reflect the NSW reforms of 2009/2010, including the passage of the GIPA act and the establishment of the Information and Privacy Commission. Putting this function in the Ombudsman's office now, less than a year after establishment and months after amalgamation with Privacy, makes no sense. Abolishing application fees would be a new step, and bring NSW into line with the Commonwealth. The platform states:   

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.
It's another new start on 25 March.

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