Labor on path to a secret State
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.