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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Trust further impaired when secrecy preferred to transparency

Oh dear, that 'restore trust' pledge was vitally important to Mr Abbott in pre-election mode when he thought it amounted simply to 'say what we do and do what we say'.

It's hard to recall another new government over the last 30 years that didn't bother to at least say it was going to be more open, transparent and accountable. Even if it just amounted to paper thin rhetoric. But 80 days in, that seems to be the case with the Abbott government

Sure there have been a couple of specific promises, as part of Treasurer Hockey's deal with The Greens to scrap the debt ceiling, and in Communications Minister Turnbull's plans for NBN Co.

But Operation Sovereign Border laid the foundation stone for closed shop. And building the edifice hasn't stopped there.

The stock standard 'we don't comment on intelligence or security matters' is proving a convenient shield in light of developments at home and abroad concerning what our intelligence agencies get up to, and the vacuuming of our meta data by Telstra and others. That's just for starters, as Deborah Snow outlined on Saturday. 

The Greens Senator Ludlam moved a motion in the Senate to establish a committee to look into electronic surveillance overreach. Sounds sensible and in line with developments elsewhere but as Senator Ludlam said    
I will make this statement because I understand that there is no support either from the government, the Liberal-National Party, or from the Labor Party for a fairly simple committee reference into electronic surveillance overreachThe story started obviously with the United States government where inquiries are well and truly underway. Congressional hearings have been held, bills have been drafted, votes have been taken and inquiries are underway. It is the same in the UK. It is the same in France, Germany and countries in South America including Brazil—everywhere in fact except here in Australia where this bipartisan denial and conspiracy of silence to avoid the issues are yet again on display here today. This is the second time I have put a reference and, in defiance I would say to the majority will of the people of this country who want to know what is being done in our name, it is about to be voted down again. It will not be the last time I bring a motion such as this forward. I commend it to the chamber.
Government public interest immunity claims or refusal to respond to questions had a real workout in Senate estimates. Not for the first time of course, but perhaps scaling new heights. Following a refusal to produce documents in respect of OSB the Senate yesterday 
referred the matter to the Legal and Constitutional References Committee.

Government agencies have fallen into line in refusing FOI access to incoming government briefs, the latest Communications with the Treasury template proving useful. You have to say a stunning uniform turnaround across government agencies by 'independent' decision makers!

The government response to weeks of revelations about dodgy or misuse of parliamentary entitlements was weak and half hearted. A further serve for cynics is that that neither major party has said a word on the subject in Parliament since. The Greens Senator Milne continues to push for a National Integrity Commission which could help to a degree. As Paul Farrell recounts in The Guardian, trying to dig deeper than published information involves the FOI runaround - giving up seems easier and certainly less costly. Proving 'following the money ain't easy.'

On that FOI review file sitting on his desk, Attorney General Senator Brandis told Senate Estimates the government intended to move ahead and agreed with Dr Hawke that the legislation should be reformed.  But Attorney, if I may: 
the Hawke review was a flawed process-no discussion or dialogue with users and experts, skewed terms of reference, no investigation into how the legislation is being administered, no examination of best practice on the home front let alone internationally. And as Dr Hawke observes in Recommendation 1, the review fell short of the needed comprehensive review of the operation of the act and the OAIC. Be wary of advice to cherry pick recommendations before you find a place at the table for some from outside government who have another perspective. Thanks.

Then there is the continuing silence from the government on the Open Government Partnership.

Despite it all, good to be back on Terra Firma.

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