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Sunday, November 25, 2007

New PM needs to set 'tone at the top'

While Prime Minister elect Rudd is involved this week in discussions with the Secretary of the Prime Minister's Department about how to move forward with the agenda, he should have a word with Dr. Shergold about how the new government is committed to greater transparency.

He should tell Dr. Shergold to stop pursuing fanciful arguments about the need for secrecy in government of the kind advanced by him in McKinnon and Secretary Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (2007) AATA1969 . In that case a number of claims by Dr. Shergold that documents concerning government deliberations should not be disclosed on public interest grounds were rejected by the Deputy President of the Tribunal - that disclosure would reveal deliberations of senior public servants, would mean that proper records would not be created, and that frank and candid advice would not be offered.

He might also ensure that Dr. Ken Henry, Secretary of the Treasury, who is on the public record as saying that FOI is the cause of advice not being always committed to paper, is made aware of the views of the Deputy President of the Administrative Decisions Tribunal that public servants have a duty to record advice to ministers. Dr. Henry told the Canberra Times in January 2006, that FOI requests which he judged were "motivated by desire to either embarrass the Government and Treasurer or the Department" meant that communication on sensitive policy issues was likely to be verbal rather than committed to paper.

The next few weeks and months will be crucial to any new government attempt to get the public service sorted about the importance of openness and transparency.

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