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Monday, February 06, 2006

Pro active disclosure needed

Two articles in the Sydney Morning Herald in the one week raised some interesting issues about openness and transparency in the NSW Government. Anne Davies the NSW Political Correspondent on 30 January, wrote about the Guidelines being developed within the Government on lobbying to implement recommendations flowing from the Independent Commission Against Corruption and the Orange Grove affair. In the article she recounts trying to find existing documents concerning conduct in public office:

“Search the web and you will find an extensive code applying to NSW public servants, but not a ministerial code of conduct. A call to the premier’s department also failed to unearth it. Finally we tracked down a copy in the parliamentary library. It was adopted in 1995 and is based on a 1993 code developed by then premier John Fahey”

Davies elsewhere in the article says that she was able to find the code of conduct for members of parliament on the parliamentary website “with a bit of searching”.

It says a lot that documents of this kind either aren’t on any government website or if they do exist they take even an expert researcher like the state political correspondent for a major daily newspaper quite a lot of searching to find.

Government agencies should be required to proactively disclose specified types of documents on their websites. There is also a need for well organised, easily accessible government websites which are consistent in layout and design.

Have you ever tried to find even media releases issued by NSW Government ministers?

The other story that took our interest were reports about the dangerous level of dioxin in fish in Sydney Harbour leading to the announcement in December of a ban on commercial fishing. The Herald on 3 February said “that Government agencies confronted by a serious and urgent public health issue….sat on their hands for years after the years after the dangerous extent of the problem was exposed”. An article on 2 February said that the government was aware 4 years ago that dioxin levels were likely to exceed international safety standards and that fishing should be banned”.

In many countries that Australia would compare itself with, governments by law are required to disclose information when there is reason to believe that a danger to public health exists. Have a look at the link on this article to access some of the US, Canadian and UK legal requirements often referred to as “Right to Know laws”.

How come we don’t have a right to know of dangers to our health!

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