Search This Blog

Friday, September 02, 2011

Familiar FOI and other themes-Victorian Ombudsman repeats and repeats

The Age
The Annual Report 2011 by Victorian Ombudsman George Brouwer was also tabled in Parliament this week.It seems to go with the territory that these reports inevitably take on a somewhat weary tone- as in the extracts below on Freedom of Information and some other topics  followed here.

The Ombudsman doesn't say this but the Baillieu government so far identifies with a familiar pattern on FOI-make a fuss and score lots of points while in opposition, go real slow to do anything about it when elected to office. Neither the Ombudsman (understandably because it's beyond his territory) nor the government say anything about the antiquated nature of the 1982 Victorian act when compared to recent better practice legislative changes elsewhere around the country.

I continue to identify... corrupt behaviour and misconduct brought to my attention by whistleblowers ..and the inappropriate application of freedom of information legislation.....
I have.. noticed an increasing trend for some agencies to adopt a protective and adversarial position, in an attempt to hamper my ability to receive documents or information necessary to complete investigations. This is seen from unnecessary delays in the provision of information to my investigators and an unwillingness to be open to scrutiny as is apparent from the increased reliance on legal arguments, including extremely tenuous legal arguments, as a justification for refusals to provide information and documents or as a justification for proposals that seek to narrow my jurisdiction.This protective attitude is indicative of a culture of denial in the organisations concerned, an unwillingness to be open and transparent to the body charged by the Parliament with the public sector investigative function and is not in the long term interest of the organisations concerned or of the public. It also indicates a need for legislative changes to oblige all organisations to be fully open and transparent to my investigations....
The long term benefit of external scrutiny (of ministerial advisers and elected officials) is clear: maintaining public confidence in good government. However my current jurisdiction over elected officials and Ministerial advisers relies on either a parliamentary referral or a whistleblower disclosure. Otherwise the conduct of elected officials and Ministerial advisers cannot be the subject of my investigations unless they are required as witnesses for my investigations.

Chapter 3 Failure to perform statutory and other duties (page 22) addresses Freedom of Information issues specifically. Plenty of war-weariness here:
I continue to see departments and agencies applying the Act as an information protection system. I regularly identify:
• significant delays in processing requests
• restrictive interpretations of the Act
• administrative actions that are contrary to or simply disregard
the Attorney General’s guidelines and the administrative recommendations from my 2006 review.
It's rather telling that eight months on from the election of a government committed to FOI reform those 2009 guidelines are all the Ombudsman can point to regarding agency responsibilities and obligations. And regarding his 2006 report, plus ca change:
My review of the Act in 2006 revealed that delay in processing FOI requests was still a regular occurrence within Victorian departments.18 I also expressed concern about the poor quality of reasons for decisions, the poor level of assistance to applicants and other internal practices. Five years after that review, non-compliance with the Act persists.

No comments:

Post a Comment