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Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Estimates a missed opportunity to quiz Treasury Secretary about what gets recorded, what doesn't, and to ask why

In Senate Estimates for Treasury last week with Secretary John Fraser at the table no one asked about 'culture' and the way they do things there, following his remarks last month:
"Freedom of information has made people extremely careful in the public service about what they put on paper, and that's sad. Freedom of information is not a bad thing in itself. But open policy debate means people have got to be candid. And at the moment a lot of it is done orally, which is a pity. It's a pity for history and it's a pity because I'm not smart enough to think quickly on my feet. And writing something down is a great discipline."
A missed opportunity to explore how Fraser leads on the issue of transparency and accountability, given these ground-rules and good practice guidelines:

The Freedom of Information Act objects
The Parliament intends, by these objects, to promote Australia's representative democracy by contributing towards the following: (a) increasing public participation in Government processes, with a view to promoting better-informed decision-making; (b)  increasing scrutiny, discussion, comment and review of the Government's activities.
 The Public Service Act and APS values

The APS is open and accountable to the Australian community under the law and within the framework of Ministerial responsibility. The APS is apolitical and provides the Government with advice that is frank, honest, timely and based on the best available evidence.
The Australian Public Service Commissioner's Directions:
Upholding the first mentioned APS value includes:

(b)  being open to scrutiny and being transparent in decision making;
(c)  being able to demonstrate that actions and decisions have been made with appropriate consideration;
(f)  being able to demonstrate clearly that resources have been used efficiently, effectively, economically and ethically;
Upholding the second includes:

(d) understanding the needs of the Government and providing it with the best objective, non‑partisan advice based on the best evidence available;
(e) providing advice that is relevant and comprehensive, is not affected by fear of consequences, and does not withhold important facts or bad news;
 The Australian Public Service Commission elaboration in APS Values and Code in Practice:

Good advice from the APS is unbiased, evidence-based and objective. It is politically neutral but not naïve, and is developed and offered with an understanding of its implications and of the broader policy directions set by government..... Good recordkeeping is also essential to accountability. All significant decisions or actions need to be documented to a standard that would withstand independent scrutiny. Proper recordkeeping allows others to understand the reasons why a decision was made or an action taken and can guide future decision makers.... Building and maintaining a constructive relationship with Ministers and their offices is a key responsibility of APS employees. Consistently working to the APS Values is crucial to such relationships, as are a sound appreciation of the respective roles and a spirit of cooperation and good communication.... Although not all communication needs to be written, it is good practice to provide advice on key issues in writing, addressed to the Minister. File notes on significant decisions should also be created and retained.
The Australian National Audit Office Better Practice Guide Public Sector Governance (Chapter 4)

Good records management ensures that decisions and the processes that lead to them can stand up to scrutiny. It is particularly important that accurate and relevant records are accessed and used when making decisions. An entity's records also reinforce the transparency and accountability of its activities, strengthening stakeholders' confidence in the entity. Effective records management practices can also strengthen an entity's ability to comply with obligations to respond to requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 and to manage personal information in accordance with the Privacy Act 1988. To meet transparency and accountability obligations under the Public Service Act 1999, officials need to create records that document key decisions and actions in support of their entity's legal and business needs. For most Australian Government entities, requirements for the retention of public records are established under the Archives Act 1983. Each entity should establish robust systems and procedures to support good records management practices. 
The Australian Archives Managing Your Agency Records

When you create a record you are documenting your business. A record can be a range of different things: a map, written report, email, film or sound recording. The format of the record you create doesn't matter. What is important is that evidence of your activities is recorded in a way that supports your agency's business needs.

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