Tuesday, May 24, 2011
NSW Government shuts the door on incoming government briefs
Documents prepared for submission to cabinet are subject to a watertight exemption under the NSW GIPA act, so you might say the NSW Government's hands were tied from the time public servants were told before the election that this was the purpose of the incoming government briefs they were asked to prepare before the state election in March. So the decision to impose a blanket ban on access to all such documents in response to applications under the GIPA act, as reported by Matthew Moore in today's Sydney Morning Herald was preordained. But as there is no restriction on release of such information by the Premier and ministers outside the GIPA act, a government interested in lifting the game on accountability and transparency would grab the opportunity. Large slabs are likely to consist of factual information about the situation the incoming government faced.
I stopped counting after 13 Commonwealth government departments including Treasury and Defence released parts of the briefs prepared for the incoming government in Canberra last year-released under FOI because that act, unlike GIPA contains a discretion to release otherwise exempt matter (or more correctly because they weren't cabinet documents or otherwise exempt). Much of this material contributed significantly to informed public discussion and debate.
Not in NSW where the government has placed material that better informs ministers about the state of things on roads, schools and the health system for example, on the same "state secret" footing as the incoming government brief prepared in Canberra by Foreign Affairs and Trade, one Commonwealth department that flatly refused to release anything of this kind.
As I told Moore," it's poor form for a government that came to office indicating improvements in transparency and accountability were a high priority.."