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Monday, March 28, 2011

NSW speaks up for a return to integrity in public life

No one would be surprised that "restoring integrity to public life" was fourth (8%) in the top five issues listed as the highest priority for government after Saturday's election in NSW, according to the print version of this article (p 8) about results of a Herald/Neilsen Poll. Premier O'Farrell fresh from the most comprehensive election victory in memory seems certain to heed this message. The only questions are how vigorously and when. Action would have more dramatic effect than walking around with a sign saying "I'm not them."

The Liberal Party pre election commitments on transparency and accountability included all the expected headings, but the specifics on issues such as lobbyists fall far short of expectations and the recommendations of the ICAC, and on access to government information are out of date in some respects. Action on a range of fronts should be taken promptly to convey and sustain the message that this government is and will remain different in the way it governs.

For starters on the transparency front, and there are other areas just as pressing:
  • instructions for prompt public release of those parts of the incoming government briefs prepared for ministers that outline the state of things in NSW;
  • a letter to the Liberal and National parties urging/insisting disclosure as soon as practicable of donations received prior to 26 March and voluntary adoption of something close to real time disclosure from now on, with legislative changes along these lines to follow;
  • order immediate review by each agency of any GIPA matters before the Information Commissioner, the Administrative Decisions Tribunal or the courts with a view to speedy resolution;
  • ask the Information Commissioner for a report on issues that have arisen in the first nine months of operations, to identify agencies that appear to be lagging in fully embracing the open government principles underpinning the GIPA act, and to bring to attention any proposed changes in legislation that may be necessary, for example regarding IC powers, to give full effect to the scheme; and
  • put parliamentarians on notice that changes coming to arrangements for allowance and support payments will include publication of details of payments online.

Then there are broader issues raised in Ombudsman Bruce Barbour's call last year for an overhaul of the integrity structure.

The Premier should manage the integrity action agenda himself unless he has a "john faulkner" type who can be given a very senior cabinet slot that extends to responsibility for this and related matters such as public sector reform. And while Greg Smith, in line for Attorney General, seems impressive, a law related portfolio isn't the best home for these things.

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