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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Queensland shooting for No 1 on the open, transparent ratings, but...

He has said it before, but in opening the Open Government Policy Forum in Brisbane on Tuesday Premier Campbell Newman reiterated his intention that the Queensland Government rate as "the most open transparent and accountable government in Australia." 

On the open data front, Queensland is well on the way. But in light of one of the Premier's comments the No 1 spot for transparency and accountability could prove elusive.

Queensland leads the open data journey with praise for what has been done to date and plans for the future. These include requiring all agencies to inventory their data sets by the end of the year with decisions on release then to be taken on a more systematic basis than the random selection and release to date.

However in a related comment and in answering a question from Alison Sandy of the Courier Mail the Premier indicated rethinking about the extent of transparency regarding public service analysis and advice.

The Premier said information should be released unless it was truly commercial in confidence, was private, ie personal information about an individual, and added or 'disclosed the deliberative processes of government, feeding into the cabinet process.'

Sandy asked the Premier for clarification regarding the associated question raised in the RTI review issues paper, whether there is a need beyond current protections "for information in communications between Ministers and Departments." 

The Premier explained more generally that he was against trial by the media that arose from disclosures about investigations, which in his own case prior to the election came to nothing, and to the disclosure of policy ideas of officials that have never gone to ministers becoming front page news, which often had the effect of shutting the issue down.

The scope of what the Premier has in mind, or what is contemplated in the issues paper isn't clear. In a session after the Premier left, Michael McKinnon of the Seven Network suggested it was pointing towards a government preference for a deliberative process exemption without a public interest test.

Alison Sandy reports on the issue today in The Courier Mail and quotes me accurately that something like this would be a significant step backwards:
"I think what the Premier overlooked today is public servants in many of these areas are experts and their thinking can inform and shape public debate," Mr Timmins said. "Of course government might make lots of decisions for its own political interest … but at least the scrutiny that those decisions get now is a valuable guard against those things. "We need some evidence to persuade us that what we've got now doesn't work." Mr Timmins said after decisions had been made, there was "a pretty strong public interest that the issues and options that were identified as relevant leading up to the decision should be disclosed."
This isn't the only issue worth a comment-other aspects on the positive and not so positive side of transparency in Queensland in another post.

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