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Thursday, June 04, 2015

Estimates a missed opportunity to quiz public service leader on 'FOI very pernicious' remark

Senate Estimates run for hours, days, weeks with some penetrating questions and plenty of banal ones as well. Unfortunately important questions often get crowded out or for other reasons never get asked.

For example Estimates for Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet last week included one hour of questioning (Transcript 122-134) of Australian Public Service Commissioner John Lloyd.

Senator Ludwig showed particular interest in the commissioner's speeches.

The commissioner said he had given many speeches since assuming office but didn't think any had been posted on the web as he tended to speak off the cuff.

When Senator Ludwig asked 
"Were the comments that were made to the public servants at the National Portrait Gallery on 11 March an off-the-cuff speech?" 
I thought, terrific, the senator is onto Mr Lloyd about his reported remark on that occasion that Freedom of Information laws are "very pernicious," to which he added
"I think they have gone beyond perhaps what they intended to do and I think they do make us a bit over cautious and make some of the advice more circumspect than it should be, and I hope the government will address that and perhaps reassess the extent of some of those FOI laws.”
At the time Senator Ludwig said
"It's unbelievable that the head of the Commonwealth public service would call the FOI laws 'pernicious' – he either has no understanding of the importance of FOI laws in a modern and transparent democracy or he is trying to undermine the legislation with his comments."..
"FOI laws simply provide a window into the decisions and process of government. If the Public Service Commissioner has confidence in the professionalism and integrity of public service staff, then he has nothing to fear from FOI laws."
Mr Lloyd responded to the question explaining it "was a speech where I had notes and I spoke. I was asked questions at the end of the speech and I responded to questions. It was a typical session. I think it was an IPAA speech. The Institute of Public Administration of Australia was the organiser of the speech."

Go Senator Ludwig, I'm thinking, follow on with
Were your remarks about FOI laws accurately reported? 
What did you mean by "very pernicious?" 
What was the basis for the claim?
In what way has the law gone beyond what was intended?
Have you raised the issue with Minister for the Public Service Abetz?"
What action do you suggest is needed?
Have your views changed since you took up your position after working at the Institute of Public Affairs where your then colleague now Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson made 750 FOI applications to one agency in a four month period including 440 on one day? 
(I could go on......)

Alas, not even close.

No questions for the commissioner from Senator Ludwig or anyone else moved beyond the two topics the senator pursued, Lloyd's remarks regarding 'hangover' day sickies, and leaks about military pay offers.

Until corrected 'tone at the top' set by the commissioner on integrity and transparency is that FOI is "very pernicious," that is "extremely harmful, damaging, detrimental, deleterious."

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