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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Former minister reflects on 'proud' Labor legacy on FOI

Proving the old axiom that Opposition is the preferred platform for politicians looking to say something about freedom of information, Senator Joe Ludwig former special minister of state in the first Rudd government offers some thoughts in The Guardian on Labor's record, and points to danger signs ahead.
One of my proudest enduring legacies from my time as a minister in the Labor government was bringing reform to Freedom of Information (FOI) law. My reforms made it easier for the public and the media to access the workings of government. 
It's true that Senator Ludwig was shadow attorney general before the 2007 election and Labor in Opposition did come up with a policy for FOI reform.

In government his predecessor as special minister of state Senator John Faulkner deserves the credit for breaking through on the necessity for some change, but doesn't rate a mention in this account. The 2010 FOI reforms that eventuated were good and welcome but a long way short of reasonable expectations ("minor improvements" according to Jack Waterford) and the law placed in the forties in world rankings.

 Ludwig's account ignores other parts of the Labor legacy on transparency and open government. 

For example quite apart from the patchy but improved record on actual disclosures under the act, the list includes barely visible drive from the top on Open Government, ministerial failure to advocate and lead on public service culture change, resource cut backs at the Office of Australian Information Commissioner resulting in a 12 month queue for external review, no action for years on whistleblower protection until the game was almost over, allowing the Law Reform Commission Report on Secrecy Laws and Open Government completed in December 2009 to disappear into a black hole at Attorney General's, and the same goes for the September 2011 invitation from Secretary of State Clinton to join the Open Government Partnership until it was acted on by Mark Dreyfus in May 2013, skewed terms of reference for the half-hearted review of the operation of the legislation by Allan Hawke in 2012-13. I could go on.. 

Of relevance to the current kerfuffle over entitlements, Senator Ludwig commissioned the Belcher review in September 2009, following critical findings by the Auditor General. The report was handed to him six months later. It had not been released publicly by the time Senator Ludwig moved to Agriculture after the August 2010 election. The report was tabled in Parliament in March 2011, close to a year after it was completed. Few of the recommendations were acted upon then and that remains the case today.

Senator Ludwig in appointing the Committee said:
"We are committed to reform, openness and transparency to ensure that we maintain the trust and confidence of the Australian people,”
Ah that trust thing - it's been running for quite a while. 

He could be right by the way about difficult days ahead on the transparency front.

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