FOR a state government which has committed to cutting spin and becoming more transparent, a scathing report from auditor-general Des Pearson on freedom of information requests speaks volumes about a lack of action on this key pre-election promise.
Mr Pearson says Victoria was once at the forefront of freedom of information law, but over time apathy and resistance to scrutiny has affected the way FOI laws operate and restricted the amount of information being released.
As a result, he said government agencies were not meeting the law’s objective. Mr Pearson also identified systemic problems with the way government departments processed freedom of information requests.
Only four of 12 agencies audited had average request processing times that met the 45-day statutory limit in 2010-11.
It’s a stunning indictment on the way information release is handled and will only serve to reinforce views in the community that governments, no matter their political persuasion or commitment simply do not want to provide the information which the public not only expects but requires.
While Premier Ted Baillieu yesterday admitted the results were not good enough, he says the introduction of a FOI commissioner will alleviate many of the concerns raised in the report.
Time will tell if this step will pay dividends. The opposition stridently complains that a commissioner will not serve such purposes as he or she will be under-resourced and unable to review decisions made by ministerial offices.
The political machinations and strategies defy the real issue and that is that the system remains cumbersome and contrary to easy understanding. Members of the public are being hindered by the indirect FOI process.
Whether the FOI commissioner has the ability to reconstruct the system to make it more workable is not clear.
What the public wants and expects is a concise and identified method of asking for information and then a defined process for an outcome – no matter which department or body is dealing with the request.
To come good on its promise to be a transparent government, Mr Ballieu must ensure that this occurs. If it does not, he will be accused of being secretive – the same allegation he lodged against the previous state government.