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Taking out the trash day? No Functional Review for you

By 25 March 2009 22

[First filed: March 25, 2009 @ 08:03]

One hopes that a bikie-related double murder and the sudden death of a prominent member of the community was not what prompted Jon Stanhope’s office to push out this media release at 7.30pm last night.

Because if that was the reason it’s a hell of a way to run a town.

The release is a quick two fingers to everyone wanting to find out the thinking behind the “Functional Review“, the document under which the Stanhope Government has justified all sorts of things, including the school closures.

    In claiming executive privilege, opposing a call from the Legislative Assembly for the Chief Minister to table the document, the Government maintains that the Functional Review is a Cabinet document which should remain confidential.

    “The Government published the decisions made based on the Functional Review in the Budget Papers, particularly in the 2006-07 Budget, and has answered questions about those decisions in the Assembly and in Committees on many occasions,” said Chief Minister Jon Stanhope.

    “It has also fielded questions and criticism from the public and the press.

    “Cabinet confidentiality is a central plank of democracy in Australia, and of the Westminster system of government, along with the separation of powers between the Executive, the Parliament, and the Judiciary.

    “Releasing the Functional Review Report would undermine fundamentally important principles of our system of government, and compromise the capacity of this, and future ACT Governments, to discharge their responsibilities properly.”

That’s some report, capable of undermining fundamentally important principles!

UPDATE: It seems this is setting the scene for a major bust-up between the Government and the Legislative Assembly. Here’s an advance look at what Jorian Gardner is saying in this week’s CityNews:

    Chief sits tight on shock report

    By Jorian Gardner

    CHIEF Minister Jon Stanhope is squaring up for a confrontation with the will of the Assembly by stalling on making public the controversial “Costello report”.

    On February 12, the Assembly passed a resolution calling on the Chief Minister to table the powerful, but never publicly seen, 2006 report “Strategic and Functional Review of the ACT Public Sector and Services”. It was prepared by former head of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Michael Costello, at the time managing director of Actew Corporation.

    Following continuous correspondence from the Speaker’s office, on March 17 the Chief Minister wrote to Speaker Shane Rattenbury advising him that the Government was still formulating a response.

    “You would appreciate, however, that the impact of the Assembly’s resolution goes to the heart of the relationship between the Executive and the Legislature in the ACT, and to core issues of responsible government and Cabinet confidentiality in this jurisdiction,” the Chief Minister wrote.

    However, despite assuring Mr Rattenbury the “the Government is giving its response to the Assembly’s resolution due attention, and will provide a considered response shortly”, the Chief Minister has moved suddenly and without further consultation to have the report declared privileged and therefore beyond public gaze.

    Clearly irritated at weeks of delay and sensing some pushback from the Chief Minister, Speaker Rattenbury had earlier written to all members of the Assembly alerting them that he has “taken preliminary steps to arrange for the appointment of an independent legal arbiter”. It is open to any member of the Assembly to contest privilege, which is ultimately decided by the arbiter. “CityNews” understands that both the Greens and the Liberals are considering appealing the Government’s decision.

    The Costello report was the blueprint to major structural but shockwave changes by the majority Labor Government including school closures, public service redundancies, the de-corporatisation of the ACT Tourism and the sale of the Government’s leasing company Rhodium Asset Solutions.

    “I think members are beginning to wonder where this particular document is,”

    Mr Rattenbury told “CityNews”.

    The Assembly’s new Standing Order requires that documents with no claim of privilege should be lodged with the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly, but where the Chief Minister considers a document to be privileged, a return is to be prepared giving details of the document and reasons for the claim of privilege.

    “No one realistically envisaged it would take the Government this long to claim privilege,” Mr Rattenbury said.

    “Currently, if the Government wanted to be difficult they could drag this out for some time.”

It would be rather amusing if the most Cromwellian of politicians ever to grace this town were to lose his head after a fight with the legislature.

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22 Responses to
Taking out the trash day? No Functional Review for you
SkipDaRoo 9:14 am
25 Mar 09
#1

mooo_cow 9:27 am
25 Mar 09
#2

This is the biggest pile of PR Spin I have hear outside that of China.

Let me summarise:

WE DON’T HAVE TO RELEASE THE REVIEW, WE ONLY PUBLISH WHAT WE WOULD LIKE THE PUBLIC TO KNOW, ALTHOUGH WE UNDERSTAND THE PUBLIC WILL LIKE TO KNOW MORE. WE WERE ELECTED BY THE PEOPLE TO REPRESENT THEM, RELEASING THE REVIEW WOULD FUNDAMENTALLY MAKE THE ACT GOVERNMENT MORE ACCOUNTABLE THAN WE HAVE TO BE, AND COULD COMPRIMISE THE CAPACITY OF THIS GOVERNMENT TO MAKE TOUGH DECISIONS IF THE PUBLIC FINDS WE COULD HAVE DONE A BETTER JOB OR WHERE WE HAVE WASTED MONEY.

AG Canberra 9:36 am
25 Mar 09
#3

Cabinet papers and discussions are confidential (and rightly so) – publicly funded reviews that happen to be considered by Cabinet are not.

He is a knob…..

Reprobate 10:06 am
25 Mar 09
#4

So… the Gov’t has provided relevant info in budget papers, to the assembly, the media and the public, yet it “can’t” allow the document to be released because of Cabinet confidentiality… this stinks big time. I always thought this lot were just bumbling and incompetent rather than organised and corrupt, now I’m not so sure.

housebound 10:11 am
25 Mar 09
#5

Reprobate said :

So… the Gov’t has provided relevant info in budget papers, to the assembly, the media and the public, yet it “can’t” allow the document to be released because of Cabinet confidentiality… this stinks big time. I always thought this lot were just bumbling and incompetent rather than organised and corrupt, now I’m not so sure.

And this is news?

Granny 12:01 pm
25 Mar 09
#6

When even staunch Labor people I know are appalled, it is time to take a good hard look at yourself. What is left of you and the principles you once believed in? All the substance is eaten away and you’re just this empty shell – a husk. I think you need to find your way back to who you really are.

Gungahlin Al 12:21 pm
25 Mar 09
#7

SkipDaRoo said :

Nice west wing reference.

http://www.tv.com/the-west-wing/take-out-the-trash-day/episode/800/summary.html

Sure I’m not the only one who wishes that more (any?) governments had even close to the intelligence levels of the West Wing characters?

Woody Mann-Caruso 12:25 pm
25 Mar 09
#8

publicly funded reviews that happen to be considered by Cabinet are not.

As opposed to those privately funded reviews undertaken by the government?

This was always a review for the Cabinet’s consideration, and the Cabinet’s consideration only. It’s a Cabinet document. Go read the Terms of Reference.

Woody Mann-Caruso 12:27 pm
25 Mar 09
#9

And to be perfectly clear, by ‘consideration’ I mean ‘report directly to, and only to’. It’s not like this was announced as a public review, happened to cross Cabinet’s collective desks and was suddenly hushed up.

johnboy 12:31 pm
25 Mar 09
#10

Actually the review was announced to some public fanfare back in November 2005.

smiling politely 1:05 pm
25 Mar 09
#11

Can’t help but find it a little bit ironic given that the media release was issued on the very same day that Senator John Faulkner announced significant reforms to Commonwealth Freedom of Information law at the “Right to Know” conference.

Having taken a look at section 35 of the ACT Freedom of Information Act 1989 it appears on the face of it that the review is an exempt document. As previously noted, the November 2005 announcement said

“It is anticipated that the review team will present monthly progress reports to the Chief Minister and the Treasurer before presenting a final report to the ACT Cabinet in late March 2006.”

And section 35(1)(a) of the FOI Act states

“(1) A document is an exempt document if it is—

(a) a document that has been submitted to the Executive for its consideration or is proposed by a Minister to be so submitted, being a document that was brought into existence for the purpose of submission for consideration by the Executive; …”

Like many others I’d prefer for the document to be available. I’d like for all of us who are interested to be able to see what’s worked, what hasn’t, and what options were put to our Government. And then to judge the choices of our representatives accordingly. But with this decision that option is being taken away from us. And for a government that’s often sold itself to the electorate as progressive that’s pretty disappointing.

Ian 1:31 pm
25 Mar 09
#12

With the complete unwillingness of the govt to release the document, I wonder what they are not wanting to reveal:

(1) a document that contains scant analysis and was simply prepared to support the govt’s predetermined agenda
(2) findings which are contrary to what the govt chose to do
(3) a whole bunch of metrics and analysis exposing how poorly the ACT govt performs
(4) data which supports other recommendations which the govt put in the too hard basket.

Its got to be one of those. Stanhope would have it out in the public domain in an instant if it were 100% supportive of his govt’s actions and performance.

johnboy 1:52 pm
25 Mar 09
#13

If it had been kept in confidence all along it would have been just another cabinet submission.

But when it’s publicly used to justify government decisions then it’s a poor way to conduct a debate

“We have to do it ‘cuz it sez so right here”.

“Can I have a look at what it says?”

“No! It’s Secret!”

Not very convincing is it?

Mr Evil 3:13 pm
25 Mar 09
#14

Can we please have a review into why our Chief Miniature is disfunctional.

Where does he get all his ideas from – Mao’s Little Red Book of Dishonesty and Media Spin?

Woody Mann-Caruso 3:43 pm
25 Mar 09
#15

Actually the review was announced to some public fanfare back in November 2005.

Gee, you reckon? That might explain why my link is a press release on the Chief Minister’s site.

It’s often public knowledge that reviews are being conducted. It doesn’t mean that their reports are released into the public domain. The TORs made it abundantly clear what would happen to the report. It was prepared for the Cabinet. Like all other Cabinet documents, it’s exempt from FoI provisions. None of you should be the slightest bit surprised or outraged by this. If you are, let me tell you about other disturbing, recently-discovered phenomena, like ‘gravity’.

Not very convincing is it?

So if the government did something you disagreed with, but could point to a recommendation in a report saying they should do it, you’d suddenly be ‘convinced’? I doubt it, and if you were, you’d be a poor citizen. That’s not how government is supposed to work, and it’s not how it does work.

‘Publicly funded’ reports cross my desk every day. You may know they were being prepared, but you’ll never, ever see them. This is because reviews make recommendations, but governments make decisions, and that’s what you should all judge them on, not something some consultant said. If you do, you’re like those chimps who go around badmouthing or praising Gershon rather than the government who decided to do what he said.

If it’s a bad decision, then a hundred reviews don’t make it a good one. The government is required to give its reasons at the time of the decision, at which point the report is entirely irrelevant.

If it had been kept in confidence all along it would have been just another cabinet submission.

So keeping the contents of a report secret bad is OK, unless you keep the report itself secret? Is that really what you meant?

Look, I’m convinced. Governments could keep silent about review processes, and then issue front page announcements filled with weasel words like “We’re now hearing that…” and “There are claims that…”. That way their integrity would be above reproach, because they’d be like journalists.

Think for yourselves, sheeple.

Woody Mann-Caruso 3:46 pm
25 Mar 09
#16

So keeping the contents of a report secret bad is OK, unless you keep the report itself secret? Is that really what you meant?

And what I really meant was: keeping a report’s contents secret is bad, but keeping the report itself secret is OK?

johnboy 4:12 pm
25 Mar 09
#17

Not at all Woody.

My point is that if a document is being relied on to carry a point in any debate all parties need to have access to it.

If it’s got to be secret, then the arguments relied on need to stand on their own merits IMHO.

Digga 4:29 pm
25 Mar 09
#18

Organised & corrupt, dysfunctional and a knob? Surely you lot don’t think that of your elected Chief Minister? Do we actually pay him by way of a reward for these actions?

Get the damn document out there. Let’s see what they screwed up (again).

barking toad 5:26 pm
25 Mar 09
#19

The mayor’s at it again. Who’s surprised?

He’ll be miffed that Helen Clark, she of the Mitzie plywood teeth, will be dragging herman round the UN lawn.

The mayor would have loved that trough.

I-filed 6:52 pm
25 Mar 09
#20

Leak please someone …

sepi 7:44 am
26 Mar 09
#21

Ooh the plot thickens.

“Continuous correspondence from the speaker’s office” – Go shane!!

As for the report – I’d say it is minimal, not very exciting, and in hindsight, doesn’t really provide compelling reasons for closing 23 schools and Griffith library.
eg – point 1 from Ian’s post 12 above.

monomania 1:15 pm
26 Mar 09
#22

Costello’s judgements may not necessarily be that sound. We should see what Government decisions are based on. Don’t forget he ran ACTEW when it pushed for the poo water factory and a large polluting power plant inside Canberra.

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