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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

With two weeks to the NSW election, integrity issues on the fringe, hardly center stage

Integrity issues so far are only on the edge of the NSW election campaign with just two weeks remaining. Maybe Friday night on ABC?

The Liberal and Labor websites are both skinny on policy in any event and 'how we intend to govern' doesn't rate a mention. Neither party has anything to match The Greens policy on Democratic Participation

With politicians low on the trust scale you'd hope how they plan to earn it back would get a full airing.

However to date no mention in the NSW campaign of the Fitzgerald principles that had some impact in Queensland. Hardly a challenge you would think:
1. Govern for the peace, welfare and good government of the State;
2.  Make all decisions and take all actions, including public appointments, in the public interest without regard to personal, party political or other immaterial considerations;
3.  Treat all people equally without permitting any person or corporation special access or influence; and
4.   Promptly and accurately inform the public of its reasons for all significant or potentially controversial decisions and actions.

No mention either of intention to nominate a minister with specific responsibility for integrity and accountability issues in line with newly elected governments in Victoria and Queensland.

The major parties aren't throwing mud from ICAC digs in recent times, presumably because they'll get as good as they give. 

The Greens John Kaye's commentary last July is a little dated but highlights ICAC recommendations from 2010 that both have let go through to the keeper.

Including on Lobbying. The Government introduced welcome reforms in 2014.This was my take on important elements missing.

 Labor in July 2014 said Labor ministers, their staff and departments would no longer be allowed to meet third-party lobbyists, who advocate on behalf of the private sector.  If it was likely to happen that would be a real test of lobbying skills and my guess is they would manage to head it off.

Political donations
NSW already has the most stringest rules in the country and the Schott report released on Christmas eve recommended many improvements in law and practice. Premier Baird has now committed to most recommendations but an editorial in The Sydney Morning Herald points out his failure to fully embrace real-time disclosure of donations to avoid long delays in reporting, and the recommendation for independent oversight of changes to electoral funding limits. Labor's views (last September in the name of current leader Foley's predecessor) were hardly big and bold apart from full public funding, an idea going nowhere. 

The SMH is right:
"If NSW is to have transparent democracy, it needs a world-class electoral funding system."
So too Federal and other state and territory systems that meet that standard.

All round we are a long way short.

Transparency, accountability
Hard to spot any references or commitments so far. The party leaders could be forgiven for not knowing, but seven months ago the Attorney General kicked off a required statutory review of the NSW FOI/RTI equivalent, the Government Information (Public Access) Act. Apart from a call for submissions, silence then and since. The Information Commissioner reports encouraging signs to June last year in the way agencies are implementing the act but "there is still work to be done to promote access to information and achieve the objects of the Act."

While NSW 2009 reforms were steps in the right direction, still plenty of room for improvement in my view. 

One welcome step since July 2014 is the publication of a version of  Ministers' Diaries,
but it hasn't been enacted in legislation.

As to other transparency initiatives?

Digital Age/Open data
Governing in the Digital Age sounds necessary and vital right now rather than a promise for the future. But just an example mind you, nearly every government agency in NSW only accepts snail mail GIPA applications and requires payment by cheque, or wait for it, Money Order.  Then there's "Service NSW.. set up in 2013 by the NSW Government to make it easier for NSW residents and businesses to transact with government." Related example, you can't make a GIPA application for information to any government agency using that facility.

NSW published data sets are said to be 'high value' but whether that's the way those outside government view them is another question; even whether agencies ask those likely to utilise them for accountability or commercial or social reasons. 

Too many data sets published are not in machine readable form, limiting the use of the data. 

The GIPA and Open Data worlds need to be linked not siloed as separate universes. 

Labor seems silent on these issues.

Parliamentarians should be lining up to support transparency and accessibility of information in the Interest Register and concerning payment and use of entitlements. Alas.

Other issues such as ethical standards, whistleblowing, and post government employment of ministers are yet to surface either and ICAC supporters and those who support donation reform wait on wisdom from the High Court.

Meanwhile Queensland is acting on some of its integrity commitments as a high priority, so that's a welcome development.

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