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Thursday, May 17, 2007

"Right to know" monkey on PM's back

The Prime Minister's advocacy of the public right to know, at least about what the state governments should tell us about the extent of bullying in public schools, is probably going to mean that he and his ministers will be regularly asked to explain particular decisions by his own government to refuse access to information of important issues. Matthew Moore in today's Sydney Morning Herald says that the media funded watchdog will be playing an important role in this in the lead up to the election.

Today's case in point is likely to be the refusal of the Department of Environment to release documents relating to the decision to provide the $10billion funding package for the Murray Darling Basin.

And of course there are many examples from the past of refusal by Federal Government agencies that make good copy - this article by Kelvin Bissett in The Daily Telegraph recounts (among others) an unsuccessful attempt to access Family Impact Statements prepared in the course of consideration of legislative proposals, even the list of relevant bills.

Best of the year so far though has to be Australia Post going to the Federal Court to (successfully) argue that the list of post offices and their addresses are exempt from disclosure.

The answer for the PM to get this monkey off his back is an announcement of change - revised laws, proactive disclosure of information that should be in the public domain, culture change within the government, adequate resources and speedy independent review.

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