Search This Blog

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Victoria the latest "Blue Book" battlefield

The Age
Steve Vizard of MTR Melbourne radio picked up on this story in The Age on Monday and interviewed me yesterday about the battle for access to incoming government briefs prepared over 12 months ago for the Baillieu government. As Melissa Fyfe recounts, The Age is in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal arguing in a test case against the claim that much of the brief prepared by the Department of Sustainability and Environment is exempt.
Vizard made much in the lead in to our talk of the grandiose claims by the Premier on assuming office:
Under a Baillieu Government, what you see is what you will get. There will be no hidden agendas, there will be no spin, there will be no secrecy. Accountability and transparency will be the principles that underpin our Government. And the Government that we lead will be driven by integrity and governed with dignity and decency.
And a brief chat followed on the whys and wherefores of balancing the need for the necessary private space for good government, against disclosure of information consistent with those worthy principles.

Of course the "no secrecy" promise always sounded absurdly out of line with, well, the entire history of government. But in letting pass the opportunity to voluntarily and promptly disclose, outside the strict limits of the Freedom of Information Act, material that would inform and assist public discussion and debate on the state of the state, education, health, transport etc, as well as the environment, the Premier pretty quickly rendered the promise hollow.

Instead, presumably, the decision was to leave all this to FOI and the public service. Large dollops of public money are now being spent arguing legal points concerning disclosure of information 16 months old, arguments according to The Age that are peppered with chestnuts such as release would ''delay the operation of effective government in Victoria,''  damage government's relationship with the public service, and mislead the public. (In addition to an internal working document claim, I take it the cabinet document exemption is also being argued as was the case recently in NSW and South Australia, set  up in all three jurisdictions by a public service directive before the election to agencies to prepare the briefs for submission to cabinet-game, set, match.)

I didn't get a chance to tell Vizard that other issues of concern in Victoria include the slow movement towards delivering on the promise to establish a position of Freedom of Information Commissioner, the weaknesses in the bill now before Parliament, and the apparent complete  lack of interest in government, publicly at least, in bringing the 29 year old Victorian FOI act up to contemporary standards set by reforms in Queensland, Tasmania, and NSW, or perish the thought, even exceeding them.

No comments:

Post a Comment