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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Information in short supply on O'Farrell era of open government

Back on deck and looking forward to a lively 2013.

Just in time to see the Sydney Morning Herald take a look at performance or non-performance in NSW under the Government Information (Public Access) Act in "It's time for transparency". Sean Nicholls concludes the O'Farrell government has fallen a long way short of ushering in a promised ''new era of open government.''

More specifically Nicholls also reported on the refusal of access to a government commissioned report on the controversial second casino license in "O'Farrell keeping new casino report close to his chest", leading to this editorial yesterday "Transparently, can-do Barry can do better":
"Freedom of information, we are tempted to say, is like the quiet, well-behaved child who parents find easy to ignore. Many a promise is made but many a promise is not kept. It is never a surprise that the ardour of oppositions for greater transparency should cool when they nab themselves the keys to the ministerial suites. Again, we expected better of O'Farrell's team. Myriad problems have been revealed with the Government Information (Public Access) Act, known as GIPA, more than two years after it replaced the old Freedom of Information Act. Among them is an unfulfilled promise to abolish application fees."
Prompting some letters today ("O'Farrell Inc").

I've commented previously on the abolition of application fees commitment. The government's reasons for changing it's mind on this, once elected, were feeble at best.

But the biggest GIPA problem is that apart from the anecdotal, some good, some not good (quite a few frustrated, disappointed and delayed applicants find me one way or another), we just don't have information about how things are going.

I've mentioned a few times previously that a report on the operation of the GIPA act across all agencies for 2010-11 (and another for 2011-2012) required by section 37 of the Government Information (Information Commissioner) Act is yet to appear 18 months later.

The separate commissioner's annual report on the operation of her office is the source of some of the problems referred to in the Nicholls article. However information as follows, not contained in that report, would at least throw a glimmer more light on how the review process itself is operating:
The top five or ten state government agencies the subject of GIPA review applications and complaints, and in each case the number.
The same for local councils.
The same for ministers.
The number/ % of finalised review decisions that substantially affirmed the agency decision.
The number of instances where the OIC did not affirm the decision and recommended reconsideration.
The % of those matters where the agency accepted the OIC recommendation.
The names of agencies that did not act on OIC recommendations in more than one instance.
Anything meaningful on the average cost of an IPC review or of the different categories of matters resolved in various ways.
Anything meaningful on time taken in resolving IPC review and complaint matters and the backlog in terms of time since receipt.

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