80% of Australians want the Reserve Bank to reveal the minutes from its monthly meetings, according to a new survey released by Hawker Britton yesterday. We’ve been here in Crikey before, last year.

The Reserve Bank only releases a statement that outlines its reasons for changing rates. Pressure, however, is mounting for the Reserve to follow the lead of other central banks by releasing its minutes, in the hopes that they would give some insight into what the Bank’s board members are thinking about the economy and the prospect of further interest rate changes.

“The Bank of England and the United States Federal Reserve both release minutes of their board meetings, but not the Reserve Bank of Australia,” Hawker Britton principal Bruce Hawker said yesterday. “The transparency of the Reserve Bank would be enhanced by the publication of monthly minutes.”

We agree. And so does Michael McKinnon, The Australian’s intrepid freedom of information editor. Not that the paper’s having much luck in getting anything from the Bank. “Reserve Bank governor Ian Macfarlane has used extraordinary legal powers to keep the central bank’s deliberations on interest rates secret,” Paul Whittaker reported last November.

“Using powers given to him by Treasurer Peter Costello, Mr Macfarlane has issued a ‘conclusive certificate’ – a gag – on the RBA board’s minutes, saying their release is not in the public interest. This stands in direct contrast to US Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan’s regular publication of the discussions of the board meetings that set interest rates for the world’s largest economy.”

The gag came just three days before the start of a hearing in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal in which The Australian was set to challenge the RBA’s decision under the Freedom of Information Act not to release the minutes of its meetings and voting records for 2003/04.

“In defence of its position, the RBA lodged affidavits from long-serving former board member Dick Warburton and former RBA governor Bernie Fraser,” The Australian reported.

“Mr Warburton said release of the minutes would expose external directors to undue criticism and pressure from the sectorial groups they nominally represent.”

Just look at that line again. Sectorial groups? Interesting. As we said last November, they’re not mentioned in the Reserve Bank Act 1959 or its own overview of its functions and operations. Sectorial groups? Isn’t the Reserve Bank supposed to act for all of us?