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Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Integrity missing in world class public sector integrity claim

Back in 2009 when Kevin Rudd was running the show, the goal for the Australian Public Service to be the world's best was said (by Rudd) to be a perfectly reasonable aspiration. In 2012 we're right up there, according to Special Minister of State Gary Gray who twice recently told us so in responding to comments by Jennifer Westacott about the state of the service and measures that keep ministerial staff in line.  This:
The public service is an important source of advice but it cannot alone determine the path forward, only advise on the possibilities and pitfalls while also carrying out fair and proper administration – a job the APS does, better than any other in the world. 
Alex Brollo
And in short form, in this Media Release: "Australia's public service world-class"- with special mention of integrity.

I'm confident we're pretty good in comparative terms, but world champs??

As Stephen Bartos observes in The Canberra Times today, with no corruption-fighting body with investigative powers, and no effective whistleblower protection law there are  large holes in the integrity framework. The Securency scandal suggests something world class at the Reserve Bank but in the wrong category. And there would appear to be plenty of scope for things to sail under the radar given all those contract, appointment and promotion decisions, as well as opportunities afforded by loose or non-existent laws concerning post government appointment. Not to mention gaps in the law and the odd freedom of information failing that from the outside looks awfully like gaming the system; weak lobbying and political donation rules; and antediluvian secrecy provisions such as S 70 of the Crimes Act and over 500 others identified in an ALRC report that appears to have gone into the bin.

In survey results that appeared in last year's State of the Service Report  public servants were asked about familiarity with the Standards of Ministerial Ethics, the Register of Lobbyists, and the Lobbying Code of Conduct. Around 50% in each case had not heard of them, or were not sure.  No-one was asked about familiarity with the Open Government Declaration, with freedom of information reforms of 2009-2010 or asked to respond to any questions designed to gauge general attitudes concerning open government, or appreciation of the law regarding respect for information privacy and what that entails.

World class?

In a companion piece for Fairfax today Professor A.J. Brown tries hard, very hard, to come up with an explanation for the government's foot-dragging on whistleblower protection law since 2007, just one of our long way short of top class efforts. But:
At the end of the day, there seems to be no rational reason to explain the government's slowness to introduce its legislation. That only leaves irrational explanations, which can only be guessed at.
I'm sure Minister Gray can help?

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