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Wednesday, March 07, 2012

What will "Can Do Newman" deliver on open and transparent government in Queensland?

Holding steady as she goes might be a good result. And forget about  access to the incoming government brief/Blue or Red books, no matter who wins on 24 March.

The odds on the election outcome strongly favour Kevin Campbell Newman at this stage but time will tell. (Addendum- sorry, the late Kevin was his father and the coach of the University XV when I was a young rugby player in Canberra a long, long time ago.)

In the campaign so far Mr Newman has made much of his five point action plan to get Queensland back on track.

The fifth pillar is to "Restore accountability in government: Ministers will be accountable for their Departments and our decisions will be open and transparent." Ironically Mr Newman has found himself on the back foot early in the campaign concerning donor deals and personal and family interests.

The published detail of policy linked to the goal of "restoring accountability" refers to two subsidiary priorities -  to give Queensland communities a choice on local Council de‑amalgamation, and to address planning issues including restoring the Coordinator General's power and authority regarding major projects. The only mention of transparency in the detailed list of 71 LNP commitments is to put the cost of the carbon "tax" in big print on electricity bills sent to customers. This report has Mr Newman showing some interest, when questioned, in speedy disclosure of donations to political parties.

But it all seems pretty thin given the headline status of the commitment.

You might expect the LNP would have something to say about such things as open government and the Right to Information Act, whistleblower protection, lobbying and other integrity issues. Or at least  something to indicate that a new government would leave alone those Bligh government initiatives that generally seem to be marked improvements on what went before. Perhaps it is still to come. There was nothing more on the subject in the campaign launch speech, or at least the summary. The text is hard to find.

Of course as Brisbane lord mayor Mr Newman had some form on open government. In 2010 he was successful in persuading the Government to legislate to give Brisbane City Council's Establishment and Coordination Committee the same status for RTI purposes as the state cabinet. The legislation also gave all local government authorities in Queensland an exemption from the RTI act for "information brought into existence in the course of a local government’s budgetary processes" for 10 years, a wonderfully wide provision.

Michael McKinnon FOI Editor for the Seven Network described the decision to exempt the BCC committee as a disgrace, adding with rhetorical flourish:
 "Less than a year old, Queensland's bright new world of open government has been stabbed in the back in a sordid deal between two of the state's most powerful politicians. Take a bow, Anna Bligh and Campbell Newman."
The lord mayor was quoted as saying the change was necessary because the council was a large organisation, and full and frank advice to council members from staff could not be guaranteed because of fears of media coverage as a result of RTI disclosures. Hmm..

Neither exemption provision is replicated in legislation anywhere else in the country. All except the six independents in parliament voted in favour of the amendments. An online poll at the time by the Brisbane Times registered 90% against.

The BCC exemption provides the committee with the same cloak that applies to state government cabinet and committees as set out in schedule 3 of the Right to Information Act 2009: information is exempt for 10 years if it was brought into existence for the consideration of the committee; or its disclosure would reveal any consideration of the committee or would otherwise prejudice the confidentiality of committee considerations or operations. And for good measure the following documents are taken to be documents comprised exclusively of exempt information: (a) committee submissions; (b) committee briefing notes; (c) committee agendas; (d) notes of discussions in committee; (e) committee minutes; (f) committee decisions; and (g) a draft of a document mentioned in any of paragraphs (a) to (f). A report of factual or statistical information attached to a document mentioned above is exempt information (a) if its disclosure would have an effect mentioned in subsection (1)(b); or (b) it was brought into existence for the consideration of the committee. 

Perhaps Mr Newman in the premier's chair will be comfortable with the RTI act as it is. The act includes another unique exemption that in conjunction with the cabinet document exemption will serve to limit any "Blue Book" disclosures of material prepared for ministers on taking office until 2022. Schedule 3 Clause 4 provides:
 Information briefing incoming Minister
"Information is exempt information for 10 years after the appointment of a Minister for a department if the information is brought into existence by the department to brief an incoming Minister about the department."
It would be nice to see something on integrity and open and transparent government from the "can do" team before 24 March. Advances in the direction of more may be out of the question. But a commitment to simply leave well alone, at least would be reassuring.  

1 comment:

  1. CanDO has ANNA BLIGHS FILES, BSA QLD complaints, QCAT AND CMC protection of their insurance fraud. homeowners losing livehoods, just pawns in their little games. CRIMINALS they know Who could SEE THIS, and allow it. DELIBERATE fraud, HELL BEG to numerous Qld officials. NEWMAN CANT blame ANNA NOW, he has COMPLAINTS