9 December 2015

“Not a game of hide and seek” was released yesterday.  This reports on the Chief Ombudsman’s investigation into compliance with the Official Information Act and the leadership provided by central agencies. In 144 pages the report identifies and analyses concerns. It has few unpredictable findings but sets out 48 remedial recommendations to strengthen a culture of openness and to reinforce capability, policies and resources. The conclusion is that the OIA is fundamentally suitable, if not always working in practice!

The Chief Ombudsman was encouraged by her findings. She acknowledged that the framework for this constitutionally important measure is sound, although she is disappointed that improvements recommended by the Law Commission have not found favour with the Government. She saw a “genuine desire” to make the OIA work, but the way it is applied has its challenges.  We all need to play our parts with greater commitment. Progressively increasing the availability of official information  is much more than a game.

In contrast, this week the Victorian Government seems to be acknowledging that its anti-corruption agency is as toothless as critics anticipated, when 2011 legislation set up the Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission. Successive Victorian Governments were reluctant to replicate the Independent Commission Against Corruption model (ICAC) developed in NSW. When the IBAC was established, its powers and capabilities were intentionally limited. Political attitudes have now changed as the extent of corruption is evident in the State’s education administration.  These limitations will be reversed by legislation being introduced before Christmas.

In a related move, statutory changes will broaden the Auditor-General’s powers to investigate and “robustly audit” Public-Private Partnership arrangements made by agencies – notably in the education sector.