Jan 17, 2018

Public servants ignoring the public interest in freedom of information

Bureaucratic efforts to undermine Freedom of Information laws by insisting it prevents "frank and fearless advice" hurts democracy and further estranges the governing class from he electorate.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

Secretary of Prime Minister and Cabinet Martin Parkinson 

Attempts by the Public Service to resist the limited transparency provided by the Commonwealth's already restrictive Freedom of Information laws has reached systemic levels. And the argument that making documents available under FOI would undermine the capacity of public servants to offer the cliched "frank and fearless advice" is becoming the go-t0 excuse for bureaucrats to refuse to reveal documents that are eminently in the public interest and fall outside more substantive FOI exemptions.

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10 thoughts on “Public servants ignoring the public interest in freedom of information

  1. klewso

    The more things change ….?
    Howard – and the readily politicised “PS” – fire-walled behind “Children Overboard”?

  2. [email protected]

    Same in the States, perhaps less so in the ACT. In NSW the rationale behind membership of community committees supposed to keep a citizens’ eye on major developments is totally opaque for example. I believe that Greens State MP Jeremy Buckingham is investigating this in the context of eg fracking. Time for Four Corners to shed light on this in NSW. NAIF in Queensland is apparently notorious too for its non transparent doling out of taxpayer funds to dubious companies or to cronies.

  3. Carter Ray

    Hello Bernard Keane
    You are spot on , however I think the public servants are guided by high up the chain politicians.
    I have issue with NSW IPC . They do anything to prevent Local Council Trust Accounts behing on Council Web sites despite it being GIPA mandatory. They have reason though and that is the protection of scrutiny of those bulging Council accounts that are S409 LG Act Government controlled. A good amount of that money is from Charges on Essential Services (yes an existing FESL) , these being Services not listed in S501 LG Act. ICAC advised “go to the police” however I have found that Audit Office NSW have new big powers , so we will see what they say on my issue
    Ray Carter
    Call me
    M 0407258882

  4. leon knight

    What case though Bernard? -Your article fails to tell who is arguing what and where….

  5. old greybearded one

    Free and frank advice pig’s arse. They don’t want advice, they just don’t want us to know how they ignore it.

  6. graybul

    What price democracy, accountability, transparency?

    What next . . . drop the term “servant’. Why not, reality is we the public know full well we now deal with Public “Officials”. And then of course it is but one small further step for Ministers of the Crown to follow the lead [of future PM] Minister of Home Affairs The Honourable Peter Dutton and outfit all Departmental Officers with appropriate non gender uniforms? That way we the public would be on a next to nothing chance of identifying any miscreant who chose to frog march us to end of queue because he/she could.

    The simple truth is that incremental change in the way the public service functions; with or without ministerial direction, is self evident. The Australian nation has morphed into a divided polity; rich / poor, govt / private, accountable / unaccountable, left / right, legal / illegal, moral / immoral, black / white, boat refugee / plane refugee, religious / irreligious. And at the centre of this cancer are the political class who have failed to meet the challenges/responsibilities of leadership.

  7. AR

    The identities of the civil servants is not the relevant – unless they are personal partisan political advisors – but it is essential that We, the People (laughably outmoded concept these days, I know) are fully informed as to the advice given and ignored when politically/ideologically inconvenient.
    Our ire should be directed at the politicians – they are now our rulers, they are our representatives (see above) – who are driven by the whips of their real masters, the big donors and corporates.
    And yet the vast majority of the electorate, 70% continues to vote for T1 & T2 despite it being demonstrably and obviously against their own best interests.
    Not unlike gender disparities, most people don’t give a flying so long as they can piss on someone below them to assuage their own inadequacies.

  8. [email protected]

    I well remember a retired senior UK civil servant, reminiscing about the glory days of two old friends Frank and Fearless, who had retired long before he did

  9. Barnes Graham

    No wonder Turnbull has just given senior bureacrats a $28K p.a. salary boost……..

  10. William Morgan

    Good piece Bernard .

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