3 November 2011

Does a website and a tweet an open government make?

| johnboy
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Liberal Leader Zed Seselja is asking unkind questions about the much touted openness of the Gallagher Government:

Katy Gallagher’s Health Department’s decision to heavily censor prison overdose information because of media concerns is the latest in a long line of cover-ups under her ‘open government’. ACT Opposition Leader Zed Seselja today called on Katy Gallagher to put her spin into practice.

“Taxpayers are entitled to the details of projects they foot the bill for, but they’re continually left in the dark when it comes to information which reflects badly on ACT Labor,” Mr Seselja said today.

“When the Canberra Liberals requested ACT Labor’s purported savings of the $432 million office block project through a Freedom of Information request, we were denied because it would be ‘contrary to the public interest’ and would ‘confuse public debate’.

“Not releasing the business case for the ACT’s most expensive taxpayer-funded project is shoddy process and is yet another example of the government trying to influence public debate.

“ACT Labor has also gone against the longstanding practice of not charging Members of the Legislative Assembly for Freedom of Information requests, and has now resorted to charging the Canberra Liberals for many requests. This appears to be a deliberate strategy to minimise embarrassment to the government.

“How can the public properly participate in the ‘governing process’ and ‘finding solutions to problems’ if they aren’t even given the full facts?

“I call on ACT Labor to only censor documents under rare circumstances, and stop charging MLAs for Freedom of Information requests,” Mr Seselja concluded.

Until there’s an independent FOI commission with the power to access government records themselves it’s all going to be running into the teeth of the prime directive of bureaucracy: “Cover your arse”.

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Well he has a valid point. This so-called attempt at being an “open government”, when all you have to do is take a look at how they classify their documents. The current policy whereby anything provided by a department to a minister is immediately classified as “cabinet in confidence”, no matter how minor it is or even if it doesn’t relate to a decision made by cabinet. Open to everything, that we want you to see.

666 took the view this morning that the documents were censored to avoid embarrassment for the government, nothing to do with privacy. Katie “I Undeliver” Gallagher was careful to say that “the minister” isn’t involved in deciding how much information to release, but declined to say that “ministerial staff” aren’t involved.

It’s time to vote them out.

On one hand, I would like to see Zed’s commitment to open government and how he will practically implement it.

On the other hand, charging for FOI requests (and it’s not just MLAs) is not good. It suggests a culture of cover-up because on the rich and highly motiviated will lodge FOI requests.

The Assembly could amend the FOI Act to ban FOI charges. There would be no flurry of applications, because the charges have only recently been imposed.

Wow! Twitter and a blog.

Next they’ll actually publish the outcomes of Public Interest Disclosures investigated and concluded as required by Section 11of the Public Interest Disclosure Act in their annual reports!

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