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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Sad Joke of Public Accountability and Transparency in Australia.

Regular readers of the blog will be familiar with my frequent complaint about the secrecy and lack of transparency we all see from NEHTA.

Despite the following comments in the recent annual report suggesting possible change a close read makes it perfectly clear that the situation is not about alter.

“This new phase will see a more transparent and consultative approach from NEHTA to its work with the vendor community, jurisdictions and other interested parties. The current review of NEHTA, which was built into NEHTA’s constitution as a requirement, is an independent assessment of and

status report on NEHTA’s progress to date. This process will assist the Board in better evaluating key decisions and framing more precisely the future evolution of e-health for Australia.

We have greatly welcomed input by interested stakeholders into the review process and look forward to the outcomes and recommendations later in 2007.”

What do you reckon is the chance of the Board making the review public and responding openly to the recommendations. My answer is (remembering the Board have had the final report for over a month now), two – Buckley’s and none!

What saddens me more is that NEHTA is typical of much of current public administration these days. My evidence is derived from the recent Moss report.

This report is covered in the following reports:

Secrecy, spin and the right to know

November 7, 2007


It's a boutique issue, but Australian governments are increasingly secretive, to the detriment of democracy, writes Michelle Grattan.


A COUPLE of days before the election was announced, Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser, old foes who now think alike on many things, made a joint call for ministerial accountability to be an election issue.


No one took much notice. But it is surely significant that men who have led the country believe this is important — even if the cynics would say it is a bit after the event in their cases.


Accountability, at all sorts of levels, has clearly declined over the Howard years. The ministerial code of conduct, which claimed some eight ministerial and parliamentary secretary victims in the first Howard term, was soon honoured more in the breach.


Secrecy, control and spin have become more pronounced. They are not unique to this Government; the same thing has happened at state level, where Labor administrations have been highly manipulative. The rise and rise of security has been a convenient excuse, especially at federal level.


The pursuit of greater accountability is a boutique issue. Labor pledges more openness and better behaviour, but the test would be what actually happened in office.


Length of time in power and, most recently, Government control of the Senate have been critical to the decline of accountability. The Senate committee system has been one of the best checks on government and a proven mechanism for getting information. When the Coalition won a majority at the last election — which took effect in mid-2005 — it soon whittled away the Senate's scrutiny powers.


Senate clerk Harry Evans says that since mid-2005 the Senate's accountability function has virtually disappeared. "Nothing gets referred to committees without the Government approving. No resolutions for documents to be tabled get passed (with one minor exception)." Requiring the tabling of documents was one of the methods by which the Senate extracted information.


Mr Evans also observes that in estimates and other committee hearings, ministers and public servants have been more inclined to refuse to answer questions. "They know nothing can be done in the chamber. The classic case was AWB. At the first estimates hearing a statement was made that no one would answer questions, full stop." The Government's defence was that the Cole commission into the affair was under way.


It is salutary to remember that while the truth took a long time to come out in the "children overboard" affair, it might not have emerged at all if the Government had then had control of the Senate.


Continue reading this excellent article here:


http://www.theage.com.au/news/federal-election-2007-news/secrecy-spin-and-the-right-to-know/2007/11/06/1194329225660.html


and here:


Lid lifted on politics of secrecy

Matthew Moore Freedom of Information Editor


November 6, 2007


Latest related coverage




THE major media companies have attempted to make access to government information an election issue by releasing a damning report on the topic just three weeks before the federal poll.

The companies, which formed a lobby group in May called the Right to Know Coalition, launched the report, which attempts to audit the problems faced by the media in getting access to information held by governments and courts.


The Independent Audit of the State of Free Speech in Australia says governments have continued to impose barriers which are "whittling away the notion of open and easy access" to information.


It highlights secrecy provisions in 335 separate state and federal acts of Parliament, and the fact there are more than 1000 court suppression orders in force at any one time as examples of the difficulties the media have in providing information to the public.


Much of the report is devoted to problems with freedom of information laws including:


A 1993 request to the Queensland Treasurer for information about Jupiter's Casino which took 12 years to answer.

A $1.25 million fee quoted to Melbourne's Herald Sun newspaper for access to information about travel by federal MPs.

A refusal by the NSW and SA governments to reveal which clubs and hotels make the most money from poker machines because this information would "endanger lives".


The former NSW ombudsman and head of the coalition, Irene Moss, said she originally thought media complaints about lack of access to information were something of "a beat-up" but soon changed her mind when she saw the findings from a survey of more than 300 journalists.


She pointed to a "culture of secrecy, defensiveness and mutual mistrust" on the part of government and other public bodies.


Continue reading here:


http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/lid-lifted-on-politics-of-secrecy/2007/11/05/1194117959737.html


Frankly, there is no real need to go on about all this, other than to point out that if this sort of behaviour becomes entrenched we will only have more of the sort of corruption emerge that is now being exposed by the Auditor General in such activities as the Regional Grants Scheme and in the various state entities such as the ICAC, CJC, and CIC.


NEHTA should know that ultimately the Auditor General will (if only to check on the fate of the Commonwealth Funds provided) come knocking and if they have failed to meet acceptable standards of public transparency and disclosure they will be called to account. It is certain the Auditor General will not be intimidated by NEHTA when he happily sends the Prime Minister news he really did not want in the middle of an election campaign.


That I have to write a blog like this makes me sad, very sad – and afraid ultimately for our basic rights and freedoms.


David.


10 comments:

Brendan Seaton said...

David,

Don't think that increasing secrecy is unique to the Australian Government. If you haven't already, check out my post at the following URL: http://ehealthrisk.blogspot.com/2007/09/so-much-for-transparency.html . Governments in Canada and in much of the developed world are the same.

Anonymous said...

Thank goodness there are some people within Government and other organisations like NEHTA who agree with you. Sometimes, when they have had enough - they do what they know they have to do and tell no-one. This is the silent, anonymous whistleblower - basically very decent people who believe in organisational accountability and public scrutiny. Who knows how many copies of the NEHTA report have been distributed. Are they hard or soft copies? There is only one way to be 100% certain it will never become public - shred all printed copies and delete all soft copies. Don’t be surprised if the postman in his proverbial truck passes your door.

Anonymous said...

NEHTA is fast becoming totally irrelevant. The Board and Management might not believe that, but they cannot see from the inside what others can see from the outside. Their increasing reluctance to be open to public scrutiny serves only to further undermine their credibility and relevance.

Anonymous said...

So you think the chances of the Board making the review public and responding openly to the recommendations are Buckley’s and none! I disagree. Every Board member knows they have a very real problem with NEHTA. They just don't know what to do about it. Their judgement is coloured by two things - preserving their self-image and avoiding collective political responsibility. If, after Saturday, there is a change of Government the Board will have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to PTFPTB to the outgoing Government which conceived and established NEHTA. This is the time to clean the cupboard and become transparent to all.

PTFPTB: Point-The-Finger, Pass-The-Blame

Anonymous said...

What is the likelihood the BCG report could see the inside of a shredder if we have a new Government on Saturday. Pretty good I'd reckon unless some canny journalists have friends in the right places.

Anonymous said...

There are some things NEHTA should do at a national level and some things that should be left to the States to do at a local level. Before anyone can advance down that pathway with any credibility the NEHTA Review has to be made public for all to debate.

Anonymous said...

Do you seriously think a Rudd Labor Government will do things any differently or give you the transparency and accountability you seek?

Aus HIT Man said...

Hi,

I think its called "traveling in hope"! We are certain things will only get worse under the Coalition as best I can tell.

David

Anonymous said...

We seem to have been "traveling in hope"! for along time now. In doing so we placed our trust, not so much in the Government, but more in the the Government's advisers in the Department. Inevitably the same bureaucrats will be advising whoever wins the election - so in effect - nothing is likely to change. As the saying goes ......... the more things change the more they stay the same.

Vinay said...

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We sincerely appreciate your efforts. Regards, Vinay