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Friday, May 31, 2013

AGD business as usual approach to OGP may not cut the mustard

It may have just been the end of a long day at Senate Estimates for the Attorney General's Department- 7pm by the time the Open Government Partnership cropped up. 

Officials may have been understandably tired and a bit short of briefing material and thinking time following the recent decision that Australia join and AGD carry the load.

However David Fredericks Deputy Secretary, Civil Justice and Legal Services Group who responded to questions hardly sounded brimming with enthusiasm or fully across some of the implications of signing on to a government-civil society partnership.

In response to questions from Senator Rhiannon, Mr Fredericks said no, there was no specific budget allocation for the OGP; staffing is yet to be sorted; and consultation on development of a national action plan would be as per the usual way AGD deals with stakeholders. But as to the detail, and content issues such as the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, it was too early to say. The Hansard extract appears below.

Fair enough on content, although AGD thinking on this front late last year was jumping ahead, narrow and limited in ambition. 

But on development of the National Action Plan, the OGP Articles of Governance include guidance that suggests something very different from business as usual consultation, at least of the dry as dust old-style kind we saw recently with the AGD supporting Dr Hawke's FOI review.

I'm sure Mr Fredericks has this back at the office. Other readers may find it of interest:

OGP participating governments commit to developing their country action plans through a multi-stakeholder process, with the active engagement of citizens and civil society. Taking account of relevant national laws and policies, OGP participants agree to develop their country commitments according to the following principles:
• Countries are to make the details of their public consultation process and timeline
available (online at minimum) prior to the consultation, providing public notice at least two weeks in advance of any given consultation, to maximize public participation.
• Countries are to consult widely with the national community, including civil society and the private sector; seek out a diverse range of views and; make a summary of the public consultation and all individual written comment submissions available online
• Countries are to undertake OGP awareness raising activities to enhance public
participation in the consultation
• Countries are to consult the population with sufficient forewarning and through variety of mechanisms —including online and through in-person meetings— to ensure the accessibility of opportunities for citizens to engage
•Countries are to identify a forum to enable regular multi-stakeholder consultation on OGP implementation—this can be an existing entity or a new one.
Countries is (sic) to report on their consultation efforts as part of the self-assessment, and the independent reporting mechanism is to also examine the application of these principles in practice.
The Hansard extract follows:

Delays at OAIC amount to failure to deliver administrative justice

At Senate Estimates this week Australian Information Commissioner Professor John McMillan confirmed the sorry reality that faces those who seek review of decisions on Freedom of Information applications: the commitment to transparency and accountability is nothing more than rhetoric when resource constraints mean timely external review is simply not available.

Professor McMillan explained privacy complaints, FOI complaints and Information Commissioner reviews have been increasing by at least 10 per cent a year. When the proposals for FOI reform and the creation of the office were going through the parliament it was projected that the office would have 100 staff. Staff numbers are currently around 64 and will probably stabilise in the next financial year at around 70.

It takes roughly seven months to just designate someone in the office to undertake an FOI review and a lesser but still substantial period to allocate FOI and privacy complaints. Once allocated, time to completion varies but the longest unresolved cases are now over two years old.

While the backlog is reasonably steady at the moment, there are just over 400 Information Commissioner reviews that are unresolved.

This is not what was promised or expected. 

Dr Hawke's review report must be tabled within 15 sitting days of 31 April and is awaited with interest.

The Hansard extract  follows:

Thursday, May 30, 2013

House passes legislation to remove parliamentary departments from FOI scrutiny

On the day the deal between the major parties on election funding started to unravel, another instance of hands across the aisle in common cause didn't encounter difficulty. The Parliamentary Service Amendment (Freedom of Information) Bill 2013  sailed through the House of Representatives yesterday in 11 minutes flat. Not a query or concern from any quarter. If they stick together the two major parties have the numbers to push this through the Senate.

The bill amends the Parliamentary Service Act 1999 to remove the parliamentary departments and office holders from the Freedom of Information Act 1982. Completely and retrospectively.

The Australian Information Commissioner in 2012 had issued guidance that the departments were agencies subject to FOI, and had been since 1999, something overlooked by all and sundry until the Commissioner dug deep.

So much for the accountability and transparency framework for the three departments that combined were allocated around $175 million in the Budget, and separately from entitlements paid to and on behalf of members and senators by the Department of Finance and Deregulation, spend a fair chunk of that on services for parliamentarians.

Leader of the House Albanese, and Bronwyn Bishop for the Opposition were the only speakers in the House.

The legislation and the speed and urgency attached to it despite a crammed legislative agenda was unexpected and came as a surprise to this outsider at least. In June last year then Attorney General Roxon mused about fixing "the anomaly" just as Fairfax Media was digging documents out through FOI from the Department of House of Representatives on then speaker Peter Slipper's expenses. That moment seemed to pass.

The issue then cropped up again late last year in the Hawke Review which received submissions on the subject. The terms of reference included examination of the scope of the act sufficient to cover this issue.  The report has been in the Attorney General's hands since the end of April and must be tabled soon.

Why the rush days before the Hawke report appears and a year after Professor McMillan published his finding?

Minister Albanese ran the line that action was warranted as the parliamentary departments "are now subject to an act which was not designed to take into account the constitutional position of the parliament." (Really? Tell it to Westminster. And there are plenty of other examples.)

The minister explained it was "an interim measure to preserve the right of the parliament to make a deliberate decision about the FOI status of the Department of the Senate, the Department of the House of Representatives and the Department of Parliamentary Services." An option for the future, the minister said, might be for FOI to apply to information held by the parliamentary departments on administrative matters but I'll bet any action to rewind the blanket exclusions is now way off in the distance.

The only specific concern raised was the need to place beyond doubt protection of confidential advice from the Parliamentary Library to members and senators, information reasonably well protected in any event by exemptions.

As to whether FOI scrutiny of these departments is warranted, in another context in February (and there appear to have been further significant positive chages since) Senator Faulkner said the Department of Parliamentary Services had been "the worst administered department I had seen in all my time in parliament, and I have had plenty of experience on both sides of the table and dealt with plenty of what I think might be inadequate administrative practices. Nothing comes close to what we were facing in the Department of Parliamentary Services. Yes, it has improved, and I think everyone on this side of the table is grateful for that, but there is still a very critical issue here about oversight and how we got to the situation that we did." 

And the arguments about why the parliamentary departments should be subject to FOI?
For starters, the fundamental importance of transparency and accountability in a democratic society, public scrutiny is an essential anti-corruption measure, the government's Open Government Declaration of 2010, and the Prime Minister's words that fateful September day:"let's draw back the curtains and let the sun shine in; let our parliament be more open than it ever was before."

Those who research and think about these things like the Australian Law Reform Commission recommended extending FOI to the parliamentary departments in1995; those who advocate best practice internationally think it's part of the package these days, and parliaments as varied as the UK and Mexico accept it.

As to the argument that there is something unique about extending FOI beyond the executive branch to government agencies that support the legislative arm, FOI since commencement has applied to the third arm of government, the courts, regarding matters of an administrative nature, and in addition to overseas jurisdictions, Tasmania enacted this in 2009.

Quite apart from the case for a high standard of transparency for payments by the parliamentary departments that go directly or indirectly to the benefit of parliamentarians, 700-800 public servants beaver away in these departments, carrying out the routine and not so routine public functions, the same or similar to counterparts in executive government agencies. The latter have been subject to FOI transparency obligations for the last 30 years. The former, knowingly for about a year, but that looks as if it is now coming to an end.

Surely the principle is same function, same public money, same transparency standard to apply?

Ah you've got to love them. 

(Update: Daniel Hurst, Fairfax Media 31 May.) 

(More in this later post.)

Mooted ALRC privacy cause of action inquiry not officially dead yet

On and on and on went the questions in Senate Estimates this week from Shadow Attorney Senator Brandis to Professor Croucher, President of the Australian Law Reform Commission, about the reference on a statutory cause of action for breach of privacy, announced in March as part of the media reform package, but before the package fell in a heap. I thought it had disappeared along with the rest. That still may be the case. The short summary from the Q&A:
there has been discussion about terms of reference with the Attorney General's office and the Department in the context of the Commission's future work program; a draft or two was kicking around at some point; the reference may or may not eventuate, at the Attorney's call; and Professor Croucher is confident if it does, that it would involve more than simply a rerun of the same issue considered in detail in the Commission's 2008 report.

You like me might find water torture creeping into your consciousness if you wade through the Hansard extract:

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

An email to my local member

 You too may feel this way -  get it off your chest. My email was headed Red hot.
Mr Turnbull,
Appalled at the deal on election funding and the half hearted "improvements" to the disclosure regime. John Faulkner's shame comment fits all party to this deal. Disclosures from business should be banned in exchange for public financing. If that's going too far, donations should be capped and all over $1000 disclosed in close to real time, not nine months later. Trust is hard won and easily lost. With tough times ahead it shouldn't be frittered away like this.

Peter Timmins.
Potts Point 2011.

Privacy no hindrance to CCTV camera go-ahead for NSW local councils

Filling the "loophole" that NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell and Attorney General Smith discovered as a result of the ADT decision that the operation of Shoalhaven Council's CCTV cameras breached aspects of privacy legislation turned into a reasonable size excavation instead. 

The Privacy and Personal Information Protection Amendment(CCTV) Regulation 2013 introduced to fix "the problem" digs another pothole in legislation riddled with them.

The Regulation exempts local councils from provisions of the Privacy and Personal Information Protection Act 1998 relating to:
  • the collection of personal information, by using a CCTV camera installed for the purpose of filming in a public place if the camera is positioned so no other land is filmed (unless it is not reasonably practicable to avoid filming the other land when filming the public place)-Section 11; and
  • the disclosure to the NSW Police Force of that information by way of live transmission-Section 18.
Local councils no longer have to take such steps as are reasonable in the circumstances to ensure the personal information collected in this way is relevant to the purpose of collection, is not excessive, but accurate, up to date and complete. Or worry at all about providing a live feed to the Police - who are not subject to the privacy act except in the exercise of their administrative and educative functions, and in the Shoalhaven case were shown not to comply with their own rules regarding access to the computer that received the feed at the local station.

The Greens unsuccessfully moved a disallowance motion in the Legislative Council yesterday (the hour long debate starts at page 5 of Hansard). 

Government and opposition speakers were heavy on the law enforcement and crime prevention benefits from allowing councils to operate CCTV largely unhindered by privacy act obligations. The Greens pointed to the absence of evidence, and the finding to this effect by the ADT, citing in support a letter from Parliamentary Secretary for Justice, David Clarke on behalf of the Attorney General recounting that the government had refused to fund cameras for a local council because "there is limited evidence to support CCTV as an effective crime prevention tool." 

David Shoebridge's concluding remarks captured it pretty well:
Of course there are circumstances where closed-circuit television is useful. For example, out the front of a licensed hotel where there have been instances of assault is a great spot to put high-quality closed-circuit television to identify miscreants. If people know they are going to be recorded closed-circuit television can be a deterrent but it can also assist police to gather evidence to nail people for crimes of violence in particular. It is also entirely appropriate to have them out the front of automatic teller machines if there has been a spate of violence or a robbery. High-quality closed-circuit television monitoring hot spots can have a valid use in fighting crime.

Its use would also be entirely appropriate in cases such as surveillance inside police cells and surveillance inside police stations where footage can be used to protect police from false claims and also to protect people from excessive violence by police. There are clearly cases where closed-circuit television has a valid use, but it is not valid to install second rate closed-circuit television cameras to cover public streets and effectively use them as a very poor sieve of people who go about their ordinary business. This issue is not about stopping councils from using closed-circuit television where it is appropriate, fit for purpose and where it serves a legitimate purpose. It is about making sure that local councils comply with the Privacy and Personal Information Protection Act, that if they roll out closed-circuit television and spend thousands and thousands of ratepayers' money, that it is fit for purpose, competent and addresses one of the core issues of local council. A merits hearing in the Administrative Decisions Tribunal determined that the cameras used by the Shoalhaven Council did none of that. Rather than improving the operation of the closed-circuit television cameras in Nowra, the Government moved to exempt all closed-circuit television operations from the Privacy and Personal Information Protection Act, which is poor public administration. It is a matter of not agreeing with the umpire's call and then changing the rules afterwards.
Lawyers Hunt & Hunt agree in this respect: 
... the Regulation was not required as the Tribunal found that Shoalhaven City Council did not comply with the PPIP Act. It failed to use the footage collected for law enforcement purposes and failed to monitor the security safeguards Shoalhaven City Council had in place to protect the personal information collected. All Shoalhaven City Council had to do was to get its own affairs in order to comply with the PPIP Act.
Privacy advocates point out that exceptions to the collection principle in s 11 are rare, and require a judgment that privacy intrusive practices are so beneficial that they should trump other considerations, with evidence lacking in this case. But are somewhat relieved the pothole isn't as big as it might have been.

As to available evidence about CCTV there is plenty out there -  case in point this from the Surveillance Studies Center at Queen's University in Canada.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Attorney General and AGD to lead on Open Government Partnership

During Senate Estimates for Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet yesterday, in response to questions from Senator Faulkner, Deputy Secretary Leon said the Prime Minister "wrote to the Attorney-General on 15 May this year agreeing not only that the Attorney-General would be the lead minister but agreeing that his department would take on the role of lead agency."

Not the Prime Minister with all that might convey, unfortunately. 

But with the leadership issue cleared up, it's now onward and upward.

Big broad innovative thinking, hopefully from deep within Robert Garran Offices on the what and the how of a National Action Plan.

The Hansard extract follows: 

Monday, May 27, 2013

Australia and the OGP: next, who leads whom, where?

Now that Australia has lodged its letter of intent to join the Open Government Partnership, next step is the development of the national action plan.

But before that, who's driving this cart? 

Hopefully Senate Estimates this week may see a bit of prodding on this issue, and into current thinking within government on where things go from here.

Ideally the Prime Minister ("let the sunshine in") supported by her department should grab the reins. As per the US where President Obama leads from the White House, and the UK where Minister for the Cabinet Office Francis Maude is in charge, supported by the Cabinet Office Transparency Team.

Foreign Affairs? A domestic portfolio is better suited, although DFAT should stay closer to the action than hitherto (!) as the OGP has an important foreign policy dimension. 

Attorney General's perhaps as AG Dreyfus has Senator Faulkner's endorsement as someone really interested in the principles that underpin the OGP? (Update: AGD it is.)

Or maybe the Office of Australian Information Commissioner or Finance and Deregulation (AGIMO)?

The decision on lead agency and the way the agency designated views the issues and manages the development of a national action plan are vitally important.

The project requires some "outside the square" thinking about engagement with civil society that must go beyond an invitation on a website for submissions, the preferred methodology of quite a few in Canberra still hanging onto the nineteen seventies.

And the plan should only be a broad and rough outline of "concrete new commitments on open government" until that engagement takes place. Not simply a repackaging of low hanging fruit, as these documents released earlier in the year suggested.

Gov 2.0, Open Data and better use of technology are important. So are other transparency  issues sure to be raised when people peek outside the Parliamentary Triangle: for example next stage FOI (wherever we end up after the Hawke report due to be tabled in this session), and next stage integrity and anti-corruption including our long delayed national Anti-Corruption Plan and whistleblower protection, disclosure of political donations and better disclosure of lobbying activity. And the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative to mention just a few other matters that warrant consideration. 

The US first crack at this in 2012 after extensive engagement with civil society provides an indication of this kind of broad thinking.

We need to move promptly in a similar manner towards our own version.

NSW Information and Privacy Commissioner leaves but stays

An unusual way to manage transition. From the website:
Information Commissioner Deirdre O’Donnell has announced the transitional arrangements for her role from 24 May 2013. Ms O’Donnell will continue in the role, operating remotely after she leaves the office today until 5 July 2013, to allow for the process to appoint the new Information Commissioner to continue.The IPC’s normal business activities will continue.

In announcing on 25 March that Ms O'Donnell would be leaving on 24 May, Director General of the Department of Attorney General and Justice said the recruitment process for the position was underway. Any visible signs out there?

Thursday, May 23, 2013

EITI a different world from information access and OGP

Go figure!

Despite the fact they share a common goal and are complimentary in important respects.

But still an eye-opening day for me at the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative Beyond Transparency Conference in Sydney today. Thirteen hundred delegates from 95 countries with 40 signed up to the EITI,11 years after the initiative kicked off. All gathered together at a wonderfully pleasant Sydney venue. Quite a few deep pockets behind all this including AusAID I expect. Not knocking it but makes you think the OGP could do with a kick along of similar proportions.

Presentations were particularly instructive about the complications involved in trying to make a multi-stakeholder -  government -  business - CSO framework work, highly relevant to our own path towards a national OGP action plan.

Transparency was mentioned hundreds of times in the course of the day - twenty times by Australian Resources Minister Gary Gray alone - but the Open Governance Partnership not once except when I couldn't resist a question during discussion of extending the scope of the EITI to encompass broader transparency issues. 

Australian Assistant Treasurer David Bradbury also failed to mention the OGP despite a broad ranging invitation in a Q and A when asked to expand on concrete Australian plans for improved transparency. 

Pity the Media Release yesterday from Attorney General Mark Dreyfus about Australia's intention to join the OGP, with its obvious transparency message, didn't make it into some Canberra in-trays quickly enough.

I'll be back tomorrow at the Sydney Convention Centre for a bit more.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Hallelujah:Australia to join the Open Government Partnership

Not that I expected my post an hour or so ago would see the silence broken immediately but Attorney General' Dreyfus made this announcement this morning. He deserves congratulations on getting this up and over the line.

Thanks and appreciation also to those who helped push this along, particularly Senator John Faulkner and Senator Lee Rhiannon whose questions and concerns ensured this couldn't stay in the pending basket indefinitely. Although it seemed like it at times over the last 21 months since this first post on the subject.
The Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus QC, announced today that Australia will join the Open Government Partnership. The Open Government Partnership is a multilateral organisation that promotes transparency in government, encourages citizen participation and tackles corruption.
”Australia shares the values of the Open Government Partnership and we have a wealth of knowledge and experience to share with other nations in the partnership,” Mr Dreyfus said. 
“We believe that greater openness and accountability in government promotes public participation in government processes and leads to better informed decision-making.
The Open Government Partnership provides an international forum for countries, civil society and the private sector to stand together to address the challenges of governance in the 21st century.....  
“The Government will start work on a National Action Plan to build on our existing commitments to open and transparent government,” Mr Dreyfus said.
“The Plan will address one of the Open Government Partnership challenges of improving public services, increasing public integrity, effectively managing public resources, creating safer communities and increasing corporate accountability.
“Membership of the Open Government Partnership will complement Australia’s leadership internationally in promoting democracy, transparency and good governance,” Mr Dreyfus said.
“It will also assist Australia to spread the values of transparency and accountability in our region.”
Civil society should share a celebratory drink at the EITI conference in the next few days and then gear up for serious partnering on OGP related activity.

Craig Thomler eGov AU
Malaysia- Bernama 

An end to Australia's long silence on the Open Government Partnership?

It should be a no-brainer.

Since this unique multilateral government and civil society initiative was launched by President Obama at the UN in September 2011, 58 countries have joined. (One, Russia has just left.)  But Australia is yet to respond to Hillary Clinton's invitation to sign up or reply to UK Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude who raised the issue with us in January this year.

OGP member countries share a commitment to increase the availability of information about governmental activities, to support civic participation in government, to implement the highest standards of professional integrity through ant-corruption and other measures, and to utilise new technologies to disseminate government information and data.

Governments pursue these goals in partnership with civil society internationally and at home through a practical national action plan.

Close friends Indonesia and the UK currently co-chair the OGP. Korea and the Philippines are other members from this region.

In February, Minister for Foreign Affairs Senator Carr said he supported in principle Australia joining. Membership had been proposed by Attorney General Roxon last year. Australian Information Commissioner Professor McMillan has said Australian membership is inevitable, only a matter of time.

The opportune time is now.

The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative Global Conference, Beyond Transparency gets underway in Sydney tomorrow.

The OGP and the EITI share interests in transparency and have complimentary goals. EITI requires companies to disclose what they pay and governments to disclose what they receive. Many OGP members including the United States list the EITI as a priority transparency and anti-corruption measure in the national action plan they commit to as a condition of membership.

Australia promotes the EITI through AusAID, and makes a sizeable financial contribution to implementation in developing countries. Domestically, the government is undertaking a pilot project and says it is not yet in a position to commit to EITI legislative obligations.

An announcement at the EITI conference of our intention to join the OGP would forcefully demonstrate more than all our words, our commitment to high standards of transparency and accountability at home and abroad.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

How goes Victorian FOI Commissioner ?

Hard to know almost six months after the Freedom of Information Commissioner opened for business on 1 December.

There is nothing on the website about what has happened since in terms of reviews and complaints received and their resolution. The Commissioner has 30 days to conduct a review (super quick by any standard) unless the applicant agrees to an extended period.

Budget documents published in early May help a little.

Budget Paper 3 includes the Departmental performance statement for the Department of Justice (pdf) (page 199) with $3.5 million allocated for the Freedom of Information Commissioner in 2013-14, and these (surprising) output measures:   
                                   2012-13 Expected Outcome          2013-14

Reviews completed                 155                                       400
Complaints completed             150                                         96            
Timelines met                          85%                                     100%

But how it's all working out in practice for agencies and applicants is unknown at this distance at least. Comments informed by experience most welcome.

An unusual feature of the Victorian system (Part 1B) is that the Minister (Attorney General) may develop professional standards for the conduct of agencies in performing functions and the administration and operation of the FOI act. Where issued, an agency must comply. All quiet on that potential new front as well.
(This was my take in December 2011 on the legislation establishing the commissioner's  office.)

The portfolio statement (page 189) lists outputs for the separate Office of the Victorian Privacy Commissioner, allocated $2.3 million in 2013-14 compared to an expected current year final spend of $2.5 million.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Russia exits in OGP first

Toby McIntosh in Washington reports Russia has withdrawn from the Open Government Partnership.

"An official communication that it would drop out was received May 17, although it had signaled its intention several months ago and did not attend the ministerial meeting in London last month, according to OGP-connected sources. Russia’s letter of intent to join is dated April 17, 2012, but is the only document on the OGP website. A draft national action plan was prepared, but was never completed or submitted. Most other members who joined around that time have completed their plans. Russia’s withdrawal brings OGP membership to 57 countries. Russia is the only country to join and then leave."
(Update: See this analysis of the up and downside by Alexander Howard published at Global integrity.)

There's still plenty of good company there folks.

Calling "damage to international relations", with mixed results

Agencies other than Foreign Affairs and Trade get to try their hand from time to time at Section 33 of the Freedom of Information Act and whether disclosure would, or could reasonably be expected to, cause damage to the international relations of the Commonwealth. With contrasting results as seen in two recent review decisions by the Office of Australian Information Commissioner. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation, in the unusual position of being against disclosure, unsuccessfully argued that damage would result from release of information about a Solomon Islands media assistance project it manages for AusAID. The Bureau of Meteorology on the other hand provided enough evidence to convince the Acting Freedom of Information Commissioner to affirm its decision to refuse access to documents concerning a peer review undertaken of a NZ government research agency report on temperature changes.

Much ado, to no avail, about the records on "true heir to the throne of Iran."

There is an angle but nothing of significant Freedom of Information interest in this Federal Court decision. However it is hard to go by Justice Gray's first sentence without a peek. The decision runs to 100 paragraphs.To cut to the chase, Ms Fard failed in her application and had costs awarded against her.
  1. This is the strangest case I have encountered in almost 29 years as a judge. The applicant, Ms Fard, was born in Iran in 1947. In 1987, she fled to Turkey to avoid persecution of those of the Baha’i faith, of whom she is one. She was granted a visa to come to Australia. She arrived on 25 May 1988. She claims that the respondent, the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship (“the Minister”) holds documents that state falsely that Ms Fard is the mother of a man called Sohyle Lagheyefar or Sohail Laghaifar (or some variant of those spellings). She says that, in consequence of the existence of these false records, she has suffered various forms of harm and persecution in Australia. She wishes the Minister to cease to hold those records, or to correct them.
  2. There is in Australia a man who has been known by the name Sohyle Lagheyefar or Sohail Laghaifar (or some variant thereof). He denies that Ms Fard is his mother and denies that that is his name. He claims to be his Imperial Majesty Soltan Qeumars Shah Qajar, the grandson of a Shah who was deposed in 1925, and the true heir to the throne of Iran. For convenience, I refer to him as Mr Qeumars in these reasons for judgment, as I did at the trial.
  3. There are indeed many documents in the records held by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (“the Department”) in which it is stated that Ms Fard is the mother of a son whose name is spelt in one or other of the ways referred to in [1] above, or some variant of either of those spellings. A number of those documents were tendered in evidence by pro bono counsel for Ms Fard, along with evidence intended to demonstrate the falsity of the documents to the extent that they represent that Ms Fard has a son who bears the name in question (and sometimes in other respects). The case put on behalf of Ms Fard appears to be that documents were falsified deliberately, in order that Mr Qeumars could be brought to Australia, given a false identity, and kept here.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

No OGP joy in budget, all eyes on EITI in Sydney this week

Nothing in the Portfolio Budget Statements for Attorney General's Department, Office of Australian Information Commissioner or Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade-the three likely suspects - to indicate that Australia will be moving into 2013-2014 with a funded initiative to take us into the Open Government Partnership. 

Sigh.. But ever hopeful, maybe it means we are moving inexorably towards membership, thinking it won't cost a cracker, or nothing more than can be found within funds allocated for the normal course of business. Or something has been squirrelled away in that line item of $463 million for budgeted items yet to be announced?

However the OGP financial ground rules are changing.The minutes(pdf) of the meetings in London in April reveal that a request is coming in June for a voluntary financial pledge in 2013 by all members of at least $25k, with mandatory annual contributions from 2014.  Members of the Steering Committee who always had to dig deep are to be asked for an annual contribution of between $100 and $300k.

The $25k would be no big deal but other costs are involved.The OAIC months back flagged it would need two extra staff if it was to be the lead agency, which may or may not prove to be adequate. Factor in as well the cost of doing something meaningful in developing a National Action Plan and reaching out to civil society to get there, and participating fully in international and regional activity and it means more will be needed than the key to the petty cash tin.

So here we are in late May 2013 with the Australian Government's intentions still unknown.  Notwithstanding former Attorney General Roxon's proposal to ministerial colleagues in 2012 that we join, Senator Faulkner's conviction in February that the OGP was exactly the sort of thing Roxon's successor Mark Dreyfus stood for, Foreign Minister Carr's indication at that time of in principle support, and Australian Information Commissioner Professor McMillan's observation that Australian membership was "inevitable only a matter of time."

There is the opportunity this week for an announcement at the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative Global Conference in Sydney with Minister Gray and Assistant Treasurer Bradbury scheduled to speak to the 1300 delegates. That will raise a cheer from where I'll be sitting and I'm sure I won't be alone.

Continued silence will mean that Senate Estimates commencing 27 May provide another opportunity for those senators interested to probe process, which DFAT Secretary Varghese assured in February would be speedy. Senator Faulkner left off then saying he would be watching. I'm sure officials are looking forward to Estimates as much as I am.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Federal Budget: OAIC down about $150k

Could have been worse I guess.

As reading a Portfolio Budget Statement has never been my forte, I can only tell you after a little help that buried away in the statement for the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner [PDF 176KB] is an allocation of $10.604 million for 2013-14 compared to $10.764 million for the current year. Staff levels in the 80-85 range. Key performance indicators for timeliness remain unambitious, to use a term I've thrown around before, but you can only do what you can do. Adequate resourcing might make a difference.


Program 1.1 key performance indicators
      Australian Government agencies comply with the requirements of the Information Publication Scheme and disclosure logs.
      Principles on open public sector information are promoted and understood across government.
      OAIC merits review and complaint handling processes meet timeliness and quality benchmarks.
      Information and education products on privacy, FOI and information policy meet stakeholder needs.
      The Information Advisory Committee and Privacy Advisory Committee are supported in their role of providing advice to the OAIC.



Key performance indicators
year 1
year 2
year 3
Percentage of privacy complaints finalised within 12 months
Percentage of FOI complaints finalised within 12 months
Time taken from commencement to finalisation of audits/performance assessments
6 months
6 months
6 months
6 months
6 months
Percentage of Information Commissioner reviews completed in 12 months