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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Government speaks (softly) on information on restaurants

The silence from the NSW Government, mentioned in our blog yesterday about restaurant hygiene was broken with an announcement by the Minister for Agriculture (?) apparently responsible for the Food Authority, that a website will be established listing convictions. As the Sydney Morning Herald points out this isn't much of an advance at all, given the fact that this information is in the public domain already.

There is a lot of talk in the media about "name and shame" in this area. This misses the point that experience elsewhere shows that access to information about restaurant hygiene compliance improves public health outcomes as restaurants take steps to achieve high rankings or improve performance.

Public availability of information about the cumulative record of breaches of standards is seen to be important in achieving better outcomes in the regulation of other sectors. That's why the Australian Securities and Investments Commission publishes online a register of enforceable undertakings entered into by financial institutions found on inspection to be non compliant. And why, as required by the Home Building Act, the NSW Department of Fair Trading includes on it's website information about licensed builders including details of penalty orders imposed.

I'm struggling to understand why penalty orders issued for failure to comply with food hygiene standards shouldn't be in the same category, given the public health issues involved. As reported today, my view is an online register of penalty infringement notices, to include any response from the food outlet is the way to go. All this shouldn't be a freedom of information battle ground.

Interesting to find on the net one council (there may be others) in Australia publicises outstanding performance.

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