Search This Blog

Friday, August 16, 2013

Queensland transparency-ticks and crosses

Time was tight, given speakers on the panel at the Queensland Premier's Open Government Policy Forum in Brisbane this week had five minutes apiece before the Q&A.

I tried to get through as many points as I could with observations drawn from the following rather cryptic notes. There are some issues that I didn't mention on the day, but meant to and was beaten by the clock. 

My central point was a government committed to the fine principles of openness, transparency and accountability should be consistent.

While Queensland leads in some respects, there are gaps and weaknesses in the transparency framework.

One issue rarely discussed in the context of open, transparent and accountable government concerns the measures or indicators of performance-what and how? 

Particularly pertinent if, as most discussion on the day suggested, culture change within the governmental system is essential. Making and measuring change in this respect remains a major challenge.

(Update-transcript and comments here)

My notes..


Open data- nation leading in publication of data sets and plans for continuation of this journey, according to what I hear.

Transparency reform- national leading performance 2007-2009 with the Solomon review report and the push model, most of which made it through to the RTI act.

Continuing nation leading performance through publication on line of some cabinet information, publication on line of Premier and minister diaries, and recording, reporting and publication of lobbying contacts-the last mentioned as a result of changes by Integrity Commissioner David Solomon to the Code of conduct.

In the publication of gift registers such as this  Queensland is ahead of most.

And the Parliament as far as I can see, is the only jurisdiction to publish tabled papers on line. It also publishes the Member's Interest register


In my humble, plenty of scope for improvement...

Starting with Parliament, the Clerk's rejection of a request from Open Australia Foundation to allow republication of Hansard online which would enable OA to add the search capabilities that have made their Federal effort a real winner.


No disclosure or publication of payments to parliamentarians. The Department of Parliamentary Services is specifically excluded from the RTI act.The Department is responsible for payment of salaries and allowances to Members of Parliament, electorate offices and staffing and support services provided to Members at Parliament House. The accounts include expenditure of over $40 million on "Members Salaries, Entitlements and Electorate Office Services." No details of payments to individual members, including travel allowance are officially published or accessible.

The Callinan Report on review of the Crime and Misconduct Commission recommended legislative changes to the RTI act that would remove the requirement for reasons to be given for any RTI refusal of access decision until nine months later. The Government has accepted the recommendation in principle. This is a seriously bad move involving use of a blunderbuss to seek to protect privacy when a complaint has been received or an investigation is under way. A polishing cloth would do.

Unique and unprompted changes to the RTI act earlier this year that involve public disclosure of application details, and the scrapping of the exclusive use period which journalists argue is designed to discourage their use of the act.

The Premier's remarks at the Forum and the reference in the RTI issues paper suggesting the need for more protection for deliberative processes within government.

The review of the RTI and IP acts by the Department of Justice and Attorney-General is being conducted "with oversight by a steering committee of senior representatives from relevant departments." Submissions are invited. But a more citizen -centric approach would have been oversight of the review by a steering committee of senior public servants and community representatives with or without experience in the area.

The scope of RTI act- the issues paper released by Attorney General Bleijie raises the possible extension of the act to Government Owned Corporations not now fully covered, to corporations established by the Queensland Government under the Corporations Act, and to contracted service providers where they are performing functions on behalf of government. It stops short of suggesting extension proposed in 2011 by Mr Bleijie in Opposition to extend the act to cover any corporation supported directly or indirectly by government funds or other assistance, or over which the state, a minister or a department is in a position to exercise control. The privatisation agenda suggested in the Costello audit report might raise further issues about the public right to know and private sector entities.

No discussion in the paper of the absolute exemptions and whether a public interest test should apply. (Michael McKinnon of the Seven Network subsequently pointed to situations where the absolute protections for commercial in confidence and legal privilege had worked against community interests by contributing to a cover up of fraud and maladministration.)

No specific mention or querying the necessity for several unique Queensland absolute exemptions: the equivalent of a cabinet exemption for the Brisbane City Council Establishment and Coordination Committee, championed by the Premier when Lord Mayor; the ten year exemption for information relating to state and local government budgetary processes; and the eight year exemption for Investment incentive scheme information, to use one example that surfaced this week, the cost to the taxpayer of the deal for Virgin headquarters to relocate to Brisbane. 

The question raised in the issues paper about whether further protection is necessary "for information about successful applicants for public service positions."

The position of Information Commissioner has been filled on an acting basis for over a year.

The lobbyist registration and disclosure regime only applies to third party lobbyists.

According to media reports changes to electoral laws proposed by the Attorney General

will mean the political donation process would become "more transparent" with all donations of  $12,400 or more subject to monthly disclosures. Monthly disclosures will be an improvement on the current system where donations become publicly available 6 months after polling day. But as donations of less than $12400 would not be covered this is a retrogade step given the current cut off for declared donations is $2300. Labor in the federal arena has been pushing for $1000 but was blocked by the Opposition.The NSW Liberal Government has banned corporate donations.


The website listing Government Contracts, to this outsider at least, has limited search capabilities that make it difficult to use for accountability purposes

No comments:

Post a Comment