Some of its aims appear overly optimistic. The attempt to overturn bureaucratic caution in the application of FOI overlooks deep-seated conventions of public service loyalty to the government of the day. The revised FOI Act removed the vexed conclusive certificate as a mechanism preventing disclosure and reduced the grounds for exemption to a single "public interest" test. The intention was to rule out claims of confidentiality on purely political grounds, such as potential loss of confidence in the government or potential embarrassment in partisan debate with the opposition. Nonetheless, public servants still appear willing to use every possible legal device and subterfuge to avoid disclosing material that may damage their ministers politically. And who can blame them? Public loyalty to ministers is the cornerstone of our system of a professional public service. Without it, public servants cannot be trusted to serve alternative governments with equal commitment. Senior public servants operate within a context of relentlessly adversarial politics, where oppositions and the media are constantly at the throats of government ministers. They cannot retain the confidence of ministers if they are willing to disclose documents and information regardless of the political consequences. Some of the claims made for a greatly expanded FoI regime are politically naive and, arguably, constitutionally unsound.
Ambitious claims are also being made about governments "engaging the community" and about citizens coming to play a much more active role in policy design and service delivery. But, so far, governments still control the policy agenda and the purse-strings. User-friendly government portals and citizens' blogs on government websites do not necessarily alter governments' capacity to determine their policies and how these polices are delivered..The internet certainly provides new and expanded opportunities for them to hear from the public they serve (or at least from the more tech-savvy sections of that public). But any notion that the policy initiative has been transferred or that citizens have become significantly empowered seems premature, at least in a mature liberal democracy such as Australia..As to why the article didn't make it online at The Canberra Times???