La­bor on path to a se­cret State

The West Australian - - NEWS - Gary Ad­shead

On the is­sue of trans­parency and ac­count­abil­ity in govern­ment, Premier Mark Mc­Gowan is try­ing to have his cake and eat it.

“We will strengthen gov­er­nance, ac­count­abil­ity and trans­parency across govern­ment,” Mc­Gowan de­clared this year.

“We will gov­ern only in the in­ter­ests of all Western Aus­tralians.”

He loves talk­ing the talk, but ev­i­dence is emerg­ing that he is not walk­ing the walk.

To­day The West Aus­tralian re­veals the stag­ger­ing num­ber of oc­ca­sions Mc­Gowan’s min­is­ters have in­voked some­thing known as Sec­tion 82 no­tices un­der the Fi­nan­cial Man­age­ment Act 2006 to avoid an­swer­ing ques­tions in Par­lia­ment.

Since com­ing to power just 18 months ago, the Mc­Gowan Govern­ment has used Sec­tion 82 no­tices to block ques­tions on al­most 40 oc­ca­sions.

Com­pare that with the 67 times in to­tal — across more than eight years in of­fice — that the Bar­nett govern­ment re­lied on Sec­tion 82 in re­fus­ing to pro­vide an­swers.

Mc­Gowan’s “gold stan­dard” of open­ness has be­come rather opaque.

“We will de­velop ap­pro­pri­ate rules about com­mer­cial-in-con­fi­dence and guide­lines which have a de­fault po­si­tion of re­leas­ing in­for­ma­tion, un­less there is a good rea­son,” he trum­peted in Fe­bru­ary. That “de­fault po­si­tion” is clearly faulty.

On top of us­ing Sec­tion 82, the State Govern­ment has been happy to rely on tech­ni­cal ar­gu­ments to thwart re­quests un­der Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion.

Here’s an ex­am­ple, in­volv­ing Trans­port, Plan­ning and Lands Min­is­ter Rita Saf­fi­oti that would not pass the pub test. As a high-pro­file min­is­ter in charge of cru­cial port­fo­lios, time with Ms Saf­fi­oti is in de­mand. So, the La­bor Party ex­ploits that to raise funds from WA’s busi­ness com­mu­nity by pro­mot­ing $3000-a-head “in­ti­mate din­ners” with her. Call it cash for ac­cess.

But when this news­pa­per, through an FOI ap­pli­ca­tion, asked for in­for­ma­tion about one of the din­ners, the re­quest was blocked be­cause it failed to meet one out of three cri­te­ria. “I have to­day made a de­ci­sion to refuse ac­cess to six doc­u­ments which have been de­ter­mined to fall within the scope of your ap­pli­ca­tion,” Saf­fi­oti wrote.

And the tech­ni­cal loop­hole used to avoid ac­count­abil­ity is breath­tak­ing. “In my view, this in­for­ma­tion does not fall within the def­i­ni­tion of ‘doc­u­ments of an agency’ for the pur­poses of glos­sary 4(2) in sched­ule 2 of the FOI Act,” she said.

Put an­other way, doc­u­ments to and from Saf­fi­oti’s of­fice about her ap­pear­ance at a La­bor fundrais­ing event es­cape the law be­cause they are not con­sid­ered af­fairs of State.

Be­fore be­ing elected, WA La­bor’s pol­icy on dis­clo­sure and ac­count­abil­ity was black and white.

Since be­ing elected, the Govern­ment has done noth­ing to back that up and con­tin­ues along the path of a se­cret State.

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