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Sunday, February 27, 2011


I'm in San Francisco gearing up for the flight home early next week, but a week ago spent a little time in Acapulco Mexico, a micro Gold Coast, where apart from the sparkling beach, the most enduring image is of a lot of guys in uniform standing around with machine guns. Not looking for sympathy mind you, but last Friday while I was there seven people died and five vehicles were burned, including four taxis, during clashes between gang members. On Saturday four died and two were hurt after they were apparently involved in a shootout. On Sunday police found a dismembered body in a residential area, five burned vehicles and the body of a 17-year-old boy on the road leading to a beach resort. By Tuesday I was a long way away when the police found three bodies, one decapitated, in the boot of a  taxi stolen from its driver.  Oh and the Mexican Tennis Open was on there at the same time.

Travel broadens the mind they say. Something close to normal transmission should resume here late next week.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The view from Mexico

I'm in Mexico after brief stops in Colombia, Panama and Costa Rica. Mexico's freedom of information law rated very highly in Toby Rendell's 2008 survey, but implementation generally has been hard going with some backsliding as explained by Tom Blanton of the National Security Archive, who I saw when I was in Washington recently.

Two years ago I noted these features of Mexico's law that didn't then have a place in our system:
  • right to information included in the constitution
  • applies to all public bodies including the legislature
  • the principle of transparency must be favoured in the interpretation of the law
  • failure to decide an application within the time limit is a deemed acceptance of the request and the information must be provided within 10 days for free, unless the independent review authority decides otherwise
  • fees limited to the costs of reproduction - searching for documents and decision making not charged
  • requests for information and responses themselves must be published
  • duty to publish electronically as a matter of routine 17 categories of information including subsidy programs, contracts entered into, and reports completed
  • civil servants who fail to comply or fully support the law are subject to administrative sanctions.
We've made a little progress on some but not all since.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Open government

The Office of Australian Information Commissioner is hosting a blog from 8 February to discuss draft principles and issues concerning open government information. Before leaving Australia I said the Commissioner's issues paper setting out ten draft principles  sounded pretty good to me. But not only should every agency have a senior information champion, the agency should have a plan on what it will do to promote and achieve more open access to information. And the Commissioner should establish how performance will be measured.

I'm in Florida at the moment, regarded by some who know as the best US jurisdiction when it comes to open government under Governor Charlie Crist who stood down last November but with an element of uncertainty about how things will go in the new regime headed by Rick Scott. They put Illinois and Massachusetts at the other end of the scale. And the Obama administration is said to talk a good game but results are slow in coming.

Friday, February 04, 2011

WikiLeaks FAQs

Two more useful bits on WikiLeaks related issues as seen from here: this set of FAQs published by OpenThe, and POGO"s Fact Sheet on the Federal whistleblower legislation as at December, now shrouded in uncertainty/gloom as a result of recent developments

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Australians in Washington

Well I'm here, but that's neither here nor there. So is Pat Farmer the ultra-marathon runner and former federal parliamentarian who has received a little coverage as he charges around Washington, acclimatising for his run from pole to pole.

But the big Australian name in town is Julian Assange who featured on CBS Sixty Minutes on Sunday, and the same day was the subject of a long article by Bill Keller, the paper's Executive Editor, in The New York Times Magazine. They provided sharp contrasts.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Hard to believe from a government committed to letting the sun shine in

Plus ca change!

From The Australian on 1 February (Favouring substance over spin-no link available) about changes to ministerial staff"
Based on limited information available, The Australian has led media coverage on the poor quality of advisers in Canberra. The government has shrouded the identity of most of its 319 advisers, no longer releasing a list in its directory. Our request to ministers for a list of advisers has been refused and our Freedom of Information request has been met with an astronomical fee from the Department of Finance, which seems more interested in secrecy.

Stop laughing this is serious!

Heard the one about the independent report the government has sat on for 10 months about federal parliamentarians entitlements, including the adequacy of disclosure requirements?

As James Massola reported in The Australian last week
PRESSURE is mounting on the Gillard Government to release a review of politicians' entitlements that will recommend big pay rises for MPs. Special Minister of State Gary Gray, who has carriage of the Belcher report, promised to release the review before the end of last year.But Capital Circle understands the politically-unpalatable audit, led by former senior public servant Barbara Belcher, has been referred to a cabinet sub-committee....  The delays come as it was revealed today that 65 MPs have been forced to pay back nearly $100,000 in wrongly claimed travel perks over the last five years, including Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Sustainable Population Minister Tony Burke.Mr Burke has made 15 separate repayments involving family travel, totalling almost $7000, while Opposition health spokesman Peter Dutton has made eight separate repayments totalling $4618. Ms Gillard repaid $438 for taxi fares "inadvertently" claimed by a family member.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Blogging not quite as usual

We finished 2010 with 43,381 hits for the year, compared to 30,355 the previous year, and 17,003 and 13,574 for the two years before that. Low expectations meant we didn't keep track in 2006, year one of this little effort. Thanks folks. Particularly pleased with the trend, and the increase in comments. We have a busy Anonymous or a surfeit of Anonymouses.

Thanks to whoever is behind Australian Blog Sites for the mention and the wrap generally for the blogosphere.

I'm travelling for much of the next month or so, including time in Washington where I'm catching up with some of the open government community. I was in Palm Springs last week where you're likely to see anything- that's me in the white socks (truly) in long time family friend jennifer lyn browne's photo