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Monday, July 22, 2013

Integrity in government-up for discussion in Queensland

Queensland Premier Campbell Newman announced last week that an Open Government Policy Forum (to be held in Brisbane on 13 August) would "spark ideas about simplifying Queensland’s integrity system while maintaining real accountability."  

The forum the Premier said, is "the next step in making (the) government the most open and transparent in the nation":
“We’ve decided to hold the forum because of concerns raised in the independent Review of the CMC Act and Related Matters, which found the three fundamental and very simple elements of honesty, fairness and openness were lost in an overly complicated system,” Mr Newman said.“It’s pretty clear there is something wrong with the state’s integrity framework when most people, including a High Court Judge and a leading Professor of constitutional law and governance, think it is overly-complicated and confusing. “We want to make government processes clear, straightforward and accountable and we want to know about any gaps in our integrity and accountability framework.“We are already giving people regular progress reports on our plans, making government data publicly available on line, releasing Minister’s diaries on a monthly basis and once again, we’ve made lying to the Parliament illegal.“Our reforms have made the Queensland Government the most transparent, open and accountable in the state’s history – but we want to make it even better.
The "most open and transparent" claim raises issues of criteria, measurement  and comparison that have had little or no attention here to date. In a submission to the Hawke review academics Brett, Henman, Lidberg and Snell indicated they were seeking a grant for a study into whether FOI regimes have delivered on promises to promote open government.

But even though RTI in Queensland incorporates the push and pull dimensions of open and transparent government, the Premier is raising a broader issue by throwing accountability and integrity into the mix.
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The Premier rightly can cite Queensland positives such as proactive publication on Open Data, and a national first, the release of minister's appointment diaries. He could have added other pluses such as the publication of selected information about cabinet decisions that puts Queensland (and the ACT) way ahead of other jurisdictions. And uniquely, the disclosure of some lobbying contacts

The Newman government of course inherited the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2010, welcomed at the time as world class, and the Right to Information Act 2009, where Queensland led the Australian FOI reform mini-wave. The RTI act however has plenty of gaps, holes and areas for improvement. Beyond the confines of RTI, I'm assuming Queensland is enthusiastic about Australia embracing on the home front the disclosure standards set by the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.

A legislated integrity, open government and accountability framework in line with best practice international standards is a good first step, and Queensland still has a way to go to get there. Full and enthusiastic, properly resourced implementation is another matter.

In passing, it's worth noting that Queensland has had an acting information commissioner for a year, and the effect of wide-ranging resource cuts on information publication and access, and where things stand on the culture change front are two of many unknowns.

Then there are outcomes and results? And the relevant criteria, indicators and measures? Who collects, analyses and publishes the data?  Who leads and pushes for continuous improvement?

There is a lively international discussion about these issues, certain to become more visible  as Australia moves towards membership of the Open Government Partnership.

A discussion in Brisbane on 13 August about simplifying and enhancing Queensland's integrity system while maintaining real accountability could provide a spark.

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