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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Sunshine and rain on Right to Know Day

Right to Know Day 28 September- great to see traffic on the twitter feeds including plenty from Australia at #RighttoKnow

While observance has been trending in the right direction in recent years, its another step in the right direction given Right to Know Day often passed virtually unnoticed here.

Something positive from the highest levels of government on the importance of the right to know would be a welcome development but alas..

So too, with three ministers in New York last week, an Australian presence at the Fifth Anniversary Celebration of the Open Government Partnership would have indicated strong interest and commitment as well.

Alas again....

Further rain amid the sunshine:
 The Center for Law and Democracy in Toronto and Access Info Europe used the occasion to publish an updated Global Right to Information Rating, analysing the quality of the world's access to information laws.

The Australian legislative framework (the Federal Freedom of Information Act) comes in 56 of 111 rated, down four places since the previous assessment.

Mexico tops the list, and of particular interest UK 33, NZ 40, Canada 48 and USA 55.

Among the eye raisers, Russia 34, China 80, Japan 90, France 94, Germany 105 and Austria 111.

You can quibble with some of the scoring in the Australian assessment where we receive 83 points of a possible 150-in a few areas the assessor in my opinion has been off the money -  but  overall the act, hailed in its time in 1982 as up there with the best, is no better these days on these criteria than middle of the pack.

That's before attention to matters beyond the scope of the rating including
  • outdated features of the act that reflect the 70s rather than the twenty teens, for example one of many, Section 17,
  • the Office of Australian Information Commissioner first under threat of closure, then the government's failure to fill positions established by Parliament or fully fund the FOI watchdog role and the office information policy functions,
  • the 'tone at the top'  as a result of the absence of positive leadership and support for transparent accountable government at the same time as senior public servants speak out critical of the law generally ('very pernicious') and about its impact on their capacity to do their job, 
  • the interpretation and practical application of the law in some agencies that give rise to the epithet 'freedom from' rather than 'freedom of' information. Sarah Gill of The Age on Fairfax Media yesterday in "Have we reached peak secrecy?" pulled together some examples, arguing
"Despite the Turnbull government's professed enthusiasm for transparency and accountability, (ie membership of the OGP) this year – marked by a shroud of secrecy over border protection, the targeting of whistleblowers, and the intransigence of the Attorney-General around the release of his diary – could well be the low point for open government in Australia since Freedom of Information laws were introduced three decades ago."
Andrew Dyson SMH
Peak Secrecy? Give hope a chance?
Despite the validity of the examples cited and others that could be added, there are plenty of contenders for the 'peak secrecy' award over the last thirty years that IMO, would beat out the 15 months of the Turnbull era on display so far. The implacable attachment to the conclusive ministerial certificate during the Howard years and the eleven years it managed to ignore any positive reform for example.

As I commented at the six month mark, the record of the Turnbull government suggests hope as well as disappointment.

Six months on, membership of the Open Government Partnership, the yet to be completed National Action Plan of commitments to reform, and the Prime Minister's endorsement of the goals of the OGP as consistent with "Australia's long and proud tradition of open and transparent government" gives hope some chance.



Saturday, September 24, 2016

Voice Up: Right to Know Day 28 September

Australia’s State and Commonwealth Information Commissioners have joined together to promote their commitment to the importance of Open Government and the right to access government-held information and data on International Right to Know Day, 28 September 2016.
The right to information and our ongoing commitment to Open Government is a cornerstone of modern democratic society.
Right to Know Day is an opportunity to encourage the public sector and the community at large to think about exploring the possibilities of Open Government. When done well it increases access to information and data which results in better and more responsive services to the community, as well as increased accountability and the promotion of public participation in government decision-making.
We are pleased to come together to promote the importance of this message and we invite all members of the Australian community to join us in celebrating Right to Know Day on 28 September 2016.
Co-signed by:
Sven Bluemmel, Western Australian Information Commissioner
Richard Connock, Tasmania's Ombudsman
Michael Ison, Acting Victorian Freedom of Information Commissioner
Timothy Pilgrim, PSM, Acting Australian Information Commissioner
Rachael Rangihaeata, Queensland Information Commissioner
Elizabeth Tydd, NSW Information Commissioner and Open Data Advocate.

 
SOLOMON LECTURE: This year, Queensland's annual Solomon Lecture will be the centrepiece of the Right to Know campaign. The Lecture will be live-streamed on Right to Know Day, 28 September 2016. The lecture topic is "Collaboration in Place: The central role of information and data in securing Queensland's future prosperity", presented by Professor Anne Tiernan, Director of the Policy Innovation Hub at Griffith University.
Watch the event live online (9am) @ www.ustream.tv/channel/the-edge-external-events or register to be in the audience at the State Library of Queensland, Stanley Place, Southbank @ https://2016solomonlecture.eventbrite.com.au

If you are in Sydney celebrate at the monthly OpenAustralia Foundation Pub Meetup Tuesday 27 September Upstairs at Trinity Bar 505 Crown St Surry Hills from 6.30 pm.

Cheers!!

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

"Brandis diaries case shows how Freedom of Information has been deliberately neglected"

Rick Snell, University of Tasmania makes a welcome return to the commentariat 

"Federal Attorney-General George Brandis has lost a two-year bid to keep the summaries of meetings in his ministerial diary from being considered for release under the Commonwealth Freedom of Information Act.

A Federal Court judge in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) and a full Federal Court bench decided the reasons advanced on Brandis’ behalf to not process a Freedom of Information (FOI) request were less than persuasive.

Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, who originally filed the FOI request, called the decision “a victory for transparency and accountability” and has hailed the case as a landmark. Yet as a “landmark” decision, it speaks more forcefully to how both the Abbott and Turnbull governments have allowed the Commonwealth FOI Act to fall into a state of neglect.

The Brandis decision laid bare the inadequate and flimsy nature of the exemption claims made by the Attorney-General’s Department. Ironically, in the first two decades of the Commonwealth FOI Act, the Attorney-General’s Department was regarded by many as its fiercest advocate and guardian. Under Brandis it has forsaken that worthy heritage.

The sad thing was that the information in question was so basic and simple. The weekly summary of a diary produced in Microsoft Outlook contained the barest fragments of information about Brandis’ meetings – date, time, duration, location, and purpose of meetings.

Detailed information and supporting documents related to the meetings were not requested. There were 1930 individual entries Brandis and his staff needed to consider for release.
In terms of FOI decision-making, the “diary case” is one of the easiest jobs any government department could be asked to undertake. The majority of entries would not trigger any exemption claims under the FOI Act. If exemptions were technically triggered they would end up being released in the public interest or fail to justify the claim for secrecy.

Yet Brandis was prepared to spend two years, the resources of the public, an estimated A$50,000 in taxpayer funds for lawyers and the time of four Federal Court judges in preventing their release.
The basic arguments were that the information was prima facie sensitive, would take too long to look at, and unreasonably divert the time and resources of the department. It was, and is, a task a first-year law student could do in a couple of hours.

The reasoning by Justice Jagot in the AAT and the full Federal Court was sound. Their interpretation of the FOI Act was crystal clear; no Commonwealth FOI officer could justify making these arguments in the same circumstances in the future.

But this was exactly where the law and good practice stood in June 2014 when this saga commenced.

In a report released in December 2015, the New Zealand Ombudsman criticised the game playing of some New Zealand government agencies. In Australia it seems the federal government is prepared to play the game simply to hide information for as long as possible.

Under the Abbott government, funding to the Australian Information Commissioner and FOI Commissioner was terminated at the end of 2014. No legislation abolishing the positions was ever passed but the funding was not restored. The FOI Commissioner left and the Information Commissioner worked for several months from his own home – a script worthy of Yes, Minister, or Utopia.

Eventually some funding was reallocated in 2015, but not enough to restore staffing to previous levels. Since the middle of 2015, the Privacy Commissioner has been continually appointed as acting Information Commissioner.

Last century Malcolm Turnbull earned his stripes as a public interest advocate in the Spycatcher case. Yet he now presides over a poorly funded and hamstrung Office of the Australian Information Commissioner. In addition, Turnbull has allowed Brandis to waste taxpayer dollars on arguments that failed to gain any traction. Australia’s information policy settings have corroded.

The best, benign neglect of FOI policy by the Abbott and Turnbull governments has undermined the institutional capacity to deliver effective, informed and high-quality advice.

If an attorney-general is prepared to stonewall, for two years, access to bland diary summaries, it is little wonder that the release of more vital information like the Nauru files only happen via leaking. Brandis’ actions undermine accountability and the ability of people to participate in democratic debate in an informed manner.

The latest decision on the Brandis diaries is important. At the very least, it acts as encouragement to those refused information under the FOI Act that there is a chance to play the information game under a fairer set of rules than those used by the Australian public service and government ministers."

The Conversation
Rick Snell, Associate Professor - Acting Dean of Law, University of Tasmania
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article and comments from readers.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Guardian Australia argues the FOI case: boat turnbacks don't involve security

Paul Farrell of Guardian Australia was not only busy on the Nauru files in recent weeks , he's also been a very interested party in the challenge in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to refusal of his Freedom of information application for documents about boat turnbacks.
 
We will have to wait until the AAT decision for the detail but among a number of issues the case is testing is the meaning of “security of the Commonwealth” in the FOI act. According to this report
"Farrell’s barrister pushed the point that “national security” was not relevant for operations that were unlawful and the government’s incursions into Indonesian waters, which were covered in some of these logs, were unlawful in his view."
Guardian Australia’s barrister Tom Brennan told the hearing:
“Security in the Asio act goes beyond that which is dealt within the FoI act, because it’s not limited to the security of the body politic. It’s directed also to the security of people.“There can be no doubt that people-smuggling activities are a matter of significant public interest … they are not in my submissions ones that rise as high as touching the security of the commonwealth.”
According to the report Major General Bottrell, Commander of Operation Sovereign Borders testified
“Our greatest asset now is the scepticism of the potentially illegal immigrants..” “Much of our effort is aimed at educating people sitting there, that people smugglers are convincing to get on boats.”People smugglers would use the information about turnbacks to inform asylum seekers about how close they had got in their previous attempts to reach Australia. “Our efforts are to educate them about the dangers of that journey.” Bottrell argued that hiding this information from the public and from people smugglers was essential as part of that education effort.
"Security of the Commonwealth"
The exemption relied upon according to these reports (there may be others) is Section 33(a)(i) of the FOI Act: “A document is an exempt document if disclosure of the document under this Act:(a) would, or could reasonably be expected to, cause damage to: (i) the security of the Commonwealth...

The exemption is absolute- there is no weighing of public interest or other considerations that might favour disclosure. 

The meaning of terms used in the exemption received the usual thorough analysis recently from AAT Deputy President Forgie in Prinn and Department of Defence. [58-96] citing many precedents from court decisions but none that appear directly to address the argument reportedly advanced by Tom Brennan.

Guidelines issued by Australian Information Commissioner
Also of interest in the Prinn case [47-57] Deputy President Forgie parted company with Senior Member Popple (as she had last December in Wood) who most recently in Jones said
"The FOI Guidelines are not binding, but decision makers, including this Tribunal, should apply the FOI Guidelines unless there are cogent reasons to the contrary."
Deputy President Forgie:
53. I agree that they are not binding but I disagree that decision-makers, including this Tribunal, “should” apply the Guidelines. The obligation is to have “regard” to them i.e. “... to take into account; consider. ...”.[35] It is not to “apply” them i.e. “... bring to bear, put into practical operation, as a principle, rule, law, etc ...”.[36] Regard can only be had to them if they are made lawfully i.e. within the scope of the power conferred by s 93A and consistently with the FOI Act. Decision-makers cannot be required to have regard to the Guidelines in so far as they relate to the interpretation of the FOI Act. Section 93A(2) limits the power to issue Guidelines for the purposes of the performance of a function or the exercise of a power under that legislation. For those purposes, regard must be had to them and there can be no doubt about that. A modern statement of the importance of guidelines of this sort has been made in Plaintiff M64, to which I have referred at [50] above.





Wednesday, August 10, 2016

You can bet FOI wouldn't deliver the Nauru Files

The freedom of information system wouldn't produce anything like the Nauru Files
published by Guardian Australia today following a leak of more than 2000 incident reports from the Immigration detention centre

After all, when Guardian Australia had a crack at formally obtaining the Detention Logs a couple of years ago, 'smart lawyering' not transparency and accountability prevailed. And that was before the issue of exemptions even arose.

Hat tip this time to Paul Farrell, Nick Evershed and Helen Davidson and the unknown person or persons risking up to two years imprisonment under Section 42 of the Australian Border Force Act 2015 for secreting this cache out of the system. 

There is no defence to the charge of disclosure of protected information (any information obtained in the performance of duties) by an entrusted person (employee,contractor or consultant) regardless of the significance or insignificance of the information.

The reports published "set out as never before the assaults, sexual abuse, self-harm attempts, child abuse and living conditions endured by asylum seekers held by the Australian government, painting a picture of routine dysfunction and cruelty."

There is plenty of shock, outrage and sense of shame voiced on the Twitter feed #naurufiles and no wonder.

 David Marr comments on 'official secrecy' and its political purpose:
Parking refugees on distant islands worked last time to keep their predicament hidden. But secrets are so much harder to keep these days than they were in John Howard’s time...Canberra’s passion for secrecy has always been contradictory. Surely the more the world knows of the fate of refugees in these island camps, the more the deterrent power of holding them there? But secrecy has its purpose. It helps hold the political consensus together. The truth is terrible. The regime of official secrecy allows us – even when so much is known – not to face the facts. It’s a service for the squeamish.
Guardian Australia has commendably self censored personal information from the published reports:
The Nauru files contain a large amount of personal information about asylum seekers and detention centre staff. The Guardian has adopted a stringent approach to redacting the documents, including several layers of editorial and technical checks of the data. The general approach we have taken is to remove:
• The names of all asylum seekers and staff
• Personal identification numbers of asylum seekers (their six-digit “boat arrival numbers”)
• Ages of the asylum seekers named in reports
• Signatures of detention staff
• Nationalities with small population groups
• Residential tent numbers
• In some cases further identifying information has been removed 

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Sunlight shone on Northern Territory prison practices leads to a Royal Commission

How the damning material in videos about the treatment of young boys in the Northern Territory Don Dale Youth Detention Centre came into the hands of ABC Four Corners is not known but with a Royal Commission to investigate the system all may/will be revealed in due course.

 

The public record includes The NT Children's Commissioner Don Dale Youth Detention Centre Report to Minister September 2015 pdf that provides details of one of the worst instances of mistreatment but not the videos. 

 

Almost certainly the video footage wasn't offered up by those responsible for the system or delivered on a plate via the Information Act 2002.

 

If someone on the inside thumbed through the Public Interest Disclosure Act beforehand he/she would know it provides protections for reporting through official channels but none for public disclosure to the media or anyone else for any reason, falling short of what is regarded as best practice. 

 

A look further to the Northern Territory Criminal Code Act Schedule 1 Clause 76 would remind that unlawful communication of confidential information could get you three years in another detention centre. 

 

And there is no available defence to a charge such as absence of harm or the importance of disclosure in the public interest:

Disclosure of official secrets
(1) Any person who, being employed in the public service or engaged to do any work for or render any service to the government of the Territory or any department or statutory body thereof, unlawfully communicates confidential information coming to his knowledge because of such position is guilty of an offence and is liable to imprisonment for 3 years.
 (2) If he does so for purposes of gain he is liable to imprisonment for 5 years. 

A provision in similar terms is S 70 of the Commonwealth Crimes Act.  

Recommendations for repeal and reform first floated in 1991 reinforced in 2009, have been ignored by governments since. 

Review of information access law in NSW grinds on, missed deadline notwithstanding

This post in March commented on the slow, closed door approach to review of open government legislation in NSW and elsewhere.

The NSW Parliament imposes deadlines but they pass... and pass.

The Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 and the Government Information (Information Commissioner) Act 2009 include a requirement for a statutory review to be undertaken by the Minister administering the act "as soon as possible after the period of 5 years from the date of assent to this Act" with a report to be tabled in each House of Parliament within 12 months after the end of the period of 5 years.

The review is to determine whether the policy objectives remain valid and whether the terms of the Acts remain appropriate for securing these objectives. 

The date of assent for both acts was 26 June 2009, the date of commencement 1 July 2010.

Five years after the date of assent takes us to 26 June 2014. A period of 12 months after the end of 5 years for the report to be tabled means the deadline was 26 June 2015.

Shadow Attorney General Paul Lynch in a Question on Notice on 3 May 2016 asked the Attorney General "when the review would be completed." Attorney General Gabrielle Upton on 7 June answered (2944) "The review is currently being carried out and a report will be provided in due course." 

No report has been tabled as at 26 July 2016.

In May, in a welcome development the attorney general's department invited me and a few others to a roundtable, informing invitees that the department was interested in input into the review from outside government as most of the 80 submissions received had come from government agencies and local councils.  

Participants had no input into the agenda but a couple of hours chat ensued about the issues the department wanted to talk about-something at least.
  
Thirteen months and counting for a review report to be tabled isn't too bad when you look at deadlines listed by Justice as Reviews in Progress. The report on the review of the Workplace Surveillance Act 2005 was due no later than June 2011 and for the Defamation Act 2005, October 2011.

One of these days.....



Friday, July 22, 2016

Five time acting appointment for information commissioner position: what to make of that?

Attorney General Senator Brandis led the unsuccessful two year battle to abolish the Office of Australian Information Commissioner that ended in May 2016 when the government announced it would not proceed, finally recognising the weight of numbers in the Senate that favoured an independent watchdog to keep an eye on information access practices.
 

Now reappointed, the Attorney General according to ZDnet will appoint Timothy Pilgrim for the fifth time as Acting Australian Information Commissioner next week
 

The office operated from January to June 2015 with two of the three commissioner positions parliament established when it created the office, and since that time with one.
 

Senator Brandis told Senate Estimates (Q&A pp 42-44) in May this year the decision in  2014 to abolish the office was a 'good economy measure-and we haven't changed our mind."
 

Following the election, numbers of those in the Senate who have a different view than the Attorney General certainly won't be less and maybe more, so abolition of the office isn't on the cards.
 

However executive government has control over the budget and the appointment of commissioners. 

As Senator Brandis in Opposition in 2009 said 
"..The true measure of the openness and transparency of a government is found in its attitudes and actions when it comes to freedom of information. Legislative amendments, when there is need for them, are fine, but governments with their control over the information in their possession can always find ways to work the legislation to slow or control disclosure...."
Attitudes and actions on display include the Attorney General presiding over two years of uncertainty about whether the office of the independent watchdog had a future, adding that he hasn't changed his mind and it should be abolished if he had his way, continuing the practice of acting appointments to run the show with only one of three top positions filled, a squeeze on the budget for the office, and maintaining silence as public service leaders disparaged freedom of information and went public in calling on government to legislate for tighter guarantees of confidentiality for advice.

According to the Prime Minister takeaways from the close election result are that the public is disillusioned with government, politicians and the major parties, and restoring trust is a priority. 

Different attitudes and actions - that positively promote transparency and accountability - might help.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

A messy election outcome could bring open, transparent government in out of the dark

It's still up in the air as to who governs - and therefore gets to call most of the shots - and perhaps what the successful major party leader will have to agree to in order to form a government. 

Then on an ongoing basis, there is uncertainty about the constraints or influences that will apply to the government policy and legislative agendas because of numbers in the House and Senate.

Transparency, accountability, public integrity, citizen participation, all elements of good government, hardly rated a mention on the campaign hustings.

But one welcome outcome from the current mess is that three major players, Labor, the Greens and NXT have more open, transparent government on their list of priorities. 

In contrast to the Coalition which offered nothing in this space during the election campaign other than open data and more digital services. Those new commitments came on top of the Turnbull government decision to join the Open Government Partnership, a decision so far not fleshed out with the required ambitious commitments to “promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance.” 

EFF Designer Hugh D"Andrade
Nick Xenophon on ABC AM this morning:
Nick Xenophon, you're the only potential kingmaker to say that you're willing to strike a formal agreement with either side to form a minority government. The others have ruled it out so far. Why are you open to it?

NICK XENOPHON: Because if you run for election with a particular agenda about saving jobs, about strengthening manufacturing and farming jobs, about tackling predatory gambling and making governments accountable, if there's an opportunity to achieve that agenda with either side of politics, particularly if you come from the political centre, then it's an opportunity you should take up.....And when it comes to government accountability the fact that whistleblowers in this country aren't protected, that there is a real issue about the mechanisms of government with our freedom of information law and the like, which shows that we really need to have government to be more open, more transparent, and I think these are issues that need to be debated and discussed.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Is this result ultimately a necessarily a recipe for chaos?

NICK XENOPHON: No, it's not. It can be a recipe for cautiously having a framework in place that leads to better government, more accountable government, and I would like to think a greater confidence in our political institutions if you have those reforms, if you have greater transparency in government processes, if there is more accountability.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Nick Xenophon has runs on the open transparent government board

Predicting the outcome of the Senate election is beyond me but apart from the Coaltion, Labor and The Greens, the Nick Xenophon Team is sure to be part of the new mix.


Senator Nick Xenophon has spoken up and often on open transparent government, whistleblower protection and other issues such as a national anti corruption commission, political donations, full timely disclosure of use of parliamentary entitlements....

He is one of the few parliamentarians to even mention the Open Government Partnership.

Here is what the NXT has to say prior to the election on Saturday:

(Responses awaited to questions asked/commitments sought by Accountability Roundtable, Transparency International Australia and Electronic Frontiers Australia)
 

We stand for:
Honest and accountable government
Looking after the national interest - not vested interests.

Our core focus is:
Predatory Gambling
Australian Made & Australian Jobs
Government & Corporate Accountability
"Every thing we do as a team is about ensuring governments are open, transparent and accountable. They should be there to serve us - not us to serve them. Corporations must accept the social contract they have with the community.

We want transparency and accountability in all walks of life. Politicians must be open and up front with the Australian people. And governments should deliver value-for-money for the services you deserve. Australians who speak out against corrupt practices deserve to be protected. Corporations - particularly multi-nationals - must pay their fair share of taxes."
Principles: Government Accountability
"Politicians must be open and up front with the Australian people. Government's primary role is to provide public infrastructure and services and to drive both national economic growth and personal growth. The public have the right to expect that governments will deliver services efficiently and fairly without unnecessary waste and duplication. Australians who speak out against corrupt practices deserve to be protected.

Examples of what needs to be done:
Establish a national anti-corruption commission
Ensure politician entitlements and claims are reported in a timely and transparent way
Put in place whistleblower legislation that protects the informant and compensates them for any loss of income due to their actions
Government services (federal, state, local) must be delivered quickly and efficiently and be fully accountable to the public
Review duplicated services at a federal, state and local government level and determine the most appropriate entity to deliver these services."

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Australian Greens say the right thing on open transparent government


Election Initiatives
Digital Rights Commissioner- "an independent Human Rights Commissioner for digital rights, to advocate for the online safety, accessibility, privacy and security of all Australians."

Digital Democracy
Trial a variety of digital platforms to increase participation in democratic processes.

Democratic processes and institutions urgently need rejuvenation. Technology has made it easy for ideas to be widely circulated and debated, and for support and interest to be easily gauged. The ability to directly influence legislation and debate will strengthen participation in the political process and increase the legitimacy of the parliament.

Use interactive technology to facilitate public participation in annual government budget-setting to determine priorities for new infrastructure and services as well as revenue raising measures.

Strengthen links between the community and the parliament. Ideas can be raised on an online platform, and if enough support is gathered, the idea must be debated in the parliament.

Encourage participation in treaty-making and decisions about going to war. These policies affect the whole country for generations and the community deserves a say. Technology has made it possible for people to have informed opinions about these complex matters, and to have their opinions heard.

Move legislation that will require all government departments to proactively release information including their budgets and contracts, publishing the information in an easily searchable format.

Everyone should be able to have a say on the contents of a human rights bill. Technology can facilitate crowd-sourcing ideas and debate. Using a platform like those found in The GovLab would give all Australians ownership over the process to draft a human rights bill. This will help to increase the legitimacy of the final bill in the eyes of the community.

Statements in lead up to election
Political donation reform package 
Push for national integrity commission 
Extension of whistleblower protection
 
Responses to questions Electronic Frontiers Australia

Open Government Partnership
Do you support Australia’s involvement in the Open Government Partnership, which Prime Minister Turnbull recommitted Australia to in November 2015?
Yes, though it is the Greens view that the government can and should do much more to make Australia a leader in the area of open government.

Office of the Australian Information Commission
Do you support sufficient and long term resourcing for the functions of the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, including the appointment of the three statutory Commissioners (Information, Privacy and Freedom of Information –at present these roles are held by one person)?
Yes, the Greens advocated for the OAIC to be exempt from cuts, and for the return to proper funding arrangements.

Addendum: Responses to questions infoaus.net

Privacy: 94/100 in Australian Privacy Foundation rating. See Response.

From Policy Platform 2015 

Constitutional Reform and Democracy 
  1. A strong Senate that can always act as a house of review.
  2. That each state and territory to have at least one proportionately-elected parliamentary chamber.
  3. Increased independence of the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President of the Senate.
  4. Electoral reforms that would enable:
    1. all Australian citizens over the age of 16, including those who are incarcerated, to be eligible to vote;
    2. proportional representation in the House of Representatives and local government;
    3. fixed terms of Parliament;
    4. amendment of section 44 of the Constitution to allow any public servant, and Australian citizens with dual nationality, to stand for election to Federal Parliament;
    5. electoral funding reform that provides for:
      1. public funding of political parties and candidates for election campaigns and for the administration of political parties, to be set at a level that ensures proper democratic participation by voters and reduces corporate influence on political decisions;
      2. bans on political donations from for-profit corporations;
      3. caps on individual political donations (excluding bequests) and donations from not-for-profit organisations;
      4. caps on electoral expenditure by parties and candidates and strict limits on third party expenditure; and
      5. continuous, comprehensive public disclosure of political donations and funding on a public website.
    6. optional preferential voting in the Senate, and opposes the reintroduction of group voting tickets;
    7. the removal of any requirement for voters to produce proof of identity when voting;
    8. strong uniform national political donations laws; and
    9. the simplification of electoral enrolment, including the use of online and automatic means, and same-day enrolment at a polling place.
  5. For a period of at least two years following their term, Ministers and their senior staff not to be engaged in a private enterprise which raises a conflict or particular benefit from their role and connections developed as a Minister or senior member of staff.
  6. A reduction in the deposit required to stand for election to Parliament to remove financial barriers to democratic participation.
  7. Australia to be declared a republic with an Australian citizen as head of state.
  8. Australia, and state and territories, to have flags that reflect an independent Australia.
  9. Increased independence of the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President of the Senate.
  10. Electoral reforms that would enable:
    1. all Australian citizens over the age of 16, including those who are incarcerated, to be eligible to vote;
    2. proportional representation in the House of Representatives and local government;
    3. fixed terms of Parliament;
    4. amendment of section 44 of the Constitution to allow any public servant, and Australian citizens with dual nationality, to stand for election to Federal Parliament;
    5. electoral funding reform that provides for:
      1. public funding of political parties and candidates for election campaigns and for the administration of political parties, to be set at a level that ensures proper democratic participation by voters and reduces corporate influence on political decisions;
      2. bans on political donations from for-profit corporations;
      3. caps on individual political donations (excluding bequests) and donations from not-for-profit organisations;
      4. caps on electoral expenditure by parties and candidates and strict limits on third party expenditure; and
      5. continuous, comprehensive public disclosure of political donations and funding on a public website.
    6. optional preferential voting in the Senate, and opposes the reintroduction of group voting tickets;
    7. the removal of any requirement for voters to produce proof of identity when voting;
    8. strong uniform national political donations laws; and
    9. the simplification of electoral enrolment, including the use of online and automatic means, and same-day enrolment at a polling place.
  11. For a period of at least two years following their term, Ministers and their senior staff not to be engaged in a private enterprise which raises a conflict or particular benefit from their role and connections developed as a Minister or senior member of staff.
  12. A reduction in the deposit required to stand for election to Parliament to remove financial barriers to democratic participation.
  13. Australia to be declared a republic with an Australian citizen as head of state.
  14. Australia, and state and territories, to have flags that reflect an independent Australia.





Community Participation Policy 


The Australian Greens want:

1. Community organisations to be able to participate in public debate without fear of adverse consequences.

2. Marginalised groups to be provided with support and resources enabling them to participate in consultation and deliberation processes.

3. To enable comprehensive participation by community groups in consultation and deliberative processes. Government should provide such groups adequate time and financial assistance where required.

4. Consultation and deliberation processes to be open to independent review to evaluate their effectiveness and recommend improvement to such processes.

5. Governments to provide free and timely information to citizens.

6. Strong Freedom of Information (FOI) laws that exempt community groups and individuals from fees for material gained under FOI.

7. A well-resourced, independent statutory agency to oversee freedom of information requests and appeals.

8. Strong whistle-blower protection legislation.

9. Stronger parliamentary and public scrutiny of government funded programs to enhance transparency and accountability

10. Support for participatory
deliberative methods or processes, where appropriate, that increase levels of interaction between decision makers and the public.

ALP has a lot to say, quietly, about transparency and open government

It just appears to have chosen not to say much about these issues during the eight week campaign.




Australian Labor Party 100 Positive Policies:

Greater Budget Transparency  

-a bigger more public role for Parliamentary Budget Office.

National Information Policy
Published in December 2015 includes passing now outdated references to Office of Australian Information Commissioner and Open Government Partnership.
Recounts Labor initiatives in government prior to 2013 including Cutler Reportand Gov 2.0 Taskforce that "laid much of the groundwork for Australia’s current data infrastructure (eg data.gov.au)" 


In summary:

Pursue a new, national reform agenda - National Information Policy - to be pursued through a cross-sector Independent Data Council.

Establish an Integrated Data Infrastructure (IDI) modelled on the data platform in operation in New Zealand that combines anonymised information from a range of organisations (eg health, education, crime data) to offer insights to policy makers and researchers.

Identify open data Catalyst projects in strategic priority areas that could be championed by the Independent Data Council for early wins.

Establish a National Centre for Data Analytics which would act as a central source of data-analysis expertise for the federal government, providing expert support to its departments and agencies. The centre would sit within Digital Transformation Office.
 

(Responses awaited to questions asked/commitments sought by Accountability Roundtable and Transparency International Australia.)

Statements during campaign

“A Shorten Labor government will restore integrity to Australia’s political donation system,” said shadow special minister of state Brendan O’Connor “by lowering the thresholds for disclosure and banning foreign and anonymous donations. 


Privacy: 19/100 points in Australian Privacy Foundation ranking. The Foundation notes
Labor provided a Response, which in a number of respects was positive.
 
ALP National Platform adopted by the 2014 National Conference

In summary:  
Open Government Partnership
"Labor commits to joining and fully participating in the Open Government Partnership."

Public integrity/Anti-Corruption
Ensure the development and implementation of a national anti-corruption plan; introduce whistleblower protection across the private sector; undertake procurement reform; legislate to require public disclosure of political donations over $1000; seek to limit the level of federal campaign expenditure through the introduction of spending caps; review the existing Commonwealth integrity institutions "to adequately capture a national system that meets international best practice with regard to integrity"
 

Access to Information- Committed to preserve and strengthen the Office of Australian Information Commissioner; review the operation of Freedom of information and pursue further reforms if necessary. "Labor is committed to the principles of open government. Labor commits to "entrenching open government principles in the culture and practices of the Australian Public Service."

Relevant extracts from the Platform

Chapter 1: Labor’s enduring values…
12. We stand for integrity and transparency in government and honesty in Labor, with no tolerance for corruption.


Chapter 10: Strong democracy and effective government
The contemporary challenge

14. Labor will foster a culture of integrity within Commonwealth public institutions – a culture of openness and honesty, transparency and accountability, with the highest ethical standards and zero-tolerance for corruption. Labor will enhance public confidence in public administration by supporting the Australian National Audit Office, the Australian Public Service Commission, Parliamentary Estimates, the Commonwealth Ombudsman and other integrity measures which create this culture of integrity.

16. Labor will continue to promote transparency and accountability by maintaining and promoting a transparent culture across Australian Government agencies and will continue to support robust mechanisms for Public Interest Disclosure, Freedom of Information and mechanisms for receiving, investigating and prosecuting complaints concerning alleged corruption in public office or administration.
 

17. Labor is committed to observance of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption and will ensure the development and implementation of a national anti- corruption plan.

18. Labor will ensure more effective international engagement on anti-corruption matters including by joining the Open Government Partnership.


19. Labor has established whistleblower protection in the public sector. Labor will introduce whistleblower protection across the private sector.


20. Labor recognises the importance of corruption prevention and education as integrity building measures in addition to corruption investigation, detection and enforcement. In Government Labor will review the existing mechanisms for receiving, investigating and prosecuting complaints concerning alleged corruption in public office or administration to ensure we have the most efficient and effective arrangements in place. Labor will ensure that all bodies that have special powers to inquire, investigate, and make findings in relation to alleged corruption, are required to have regard to the rules of evidence and natural justice.


21. In office Labor established a Code of Conduct for Ministers and their staff. Ministers, staff and all members of Parliament should follow clear standards relating to their behaviour, contact with lobbyists, receipt of any gifts, and disclosure of any potential conflicts of interest which may affect them carrying out their public duty.

33. Labor will:
· Ensure government procurement delivers world-class public services, through fair and open procurement processes free of corruption and discrimination;


· Ensure that a robust objective public interest test occurs in all cases. The test must take into account social and environmental outcomes, including access to and quality of services, impact on regional areas and on local jobs, privacy provisions, risks and consequences, the protection of workers’ wages and conditions, and the cost and benefits to the public; and


· Lead on sustainability and ethical procurement practices, including requiring all companies that tender for Government contracts in the TCF industry hold Ethical Clothing Australia accreditation.

Reforming electoral law


51. Labor is committed to the fair, open and transparent operation of our electoral system and to the essential democratic principle that every person should have the right to full participation in it.


52. Labor will ensure all Australians, and particularly first-time voters, people from non-English speaking backgrounds, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people in remote locations and young people are not excluded from the electoral system.


53. Labor will improve the integrity of the electoral system and, most urgently, restore transparency, openness and accountability to the funding and disclosure regime.


54. Labor will:
· Encourage public debate about reform of our electoral laws including enrolment and electoral participation;


· Ensure disadvantaged groups are not excluded from the democratic process;


· Introduce a new scheme to regulate political financing, including donations, other revenues, expenditures, and record-keeping;


· Legislate to require public disclosure of political donations over $1000;


· Ensure maximum opportunities for enrolment and involvement in our electoral process;


· Remain committed to constitutional reform to allow simultaneous, fixed four-year terms for the House of Representatives and the Senate;


· Continue to build confidence in the system by effectively investigating and reporting all claims of electoral malpractice;


· Commit to advance the cause of making electoral enrolment and voting as quick, simple and flexible as possible, seeking to maximise the franchise consistent with maintaining the integrity of the system. Labor will further amend electoral legislation to ensure the capacity of Australians to participate in the electoral system is undiminished and extended where possible and appropriate and remove existing laws to disenfranchise Australians due to incarceration or criminal conviction; and


· Seek to limit the level of federal campaign expenditure, through the introduction of spending caps.


55. Labor recognises the important role of the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) in ensuring the integrity of the electoral system and will provide the Commission with the appropriate funding needed to meet its responsibilities, including the highly desirable goal of a single national electoral roll capable of serving the needs of states and territories but funded and maintained by the AEC.


56. Labor acknowledges that independent corruption commissions such as the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) have exposed corruption and ethical lapses in numerous State jurisdictions.


57. Commonwealth integrity agencies include:


· the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity;


· the Australian National Audit Office;


· the Inspector-General of Intelligence Security;


· the Public Accounts and Audit Committee;


· Senate Estimates Committees;


· the Australian Public Service Commission; and


· the Australian Crime Commission.


58. Labor commits to reviewing the existing Commonwealth institutions to adequately capture a national system that meets.