On Monday, I noticed a tweet on Right to Know's twitter account. It pointed me to a story in last weekend's SMH about how the NSW public is losing faith in the NSW Government Information (Public Access) Act.
The GIPA act, which was passed by the Labor government in 2009, replaced the old NSW FOI Act. From an open government point of view, the new act was disappointingly weak. Leading up to the NSW 2011 election, the Liberal party promised to reform the act but then failed to do so after it was elected. Under the LNP Baird government, open government performance has deteriorated.
The object of the Act is to "maintain and advance a system of responsible and representative democratic Government that is open, accountable, fair and effective" by "encouraging the proactive public release of government information by agencies, and giving members of the public an enforceable right to access government information." Access is only to be restricted "when there is an overriding public interest against disclosure".
I noticed a tweet from Henare Degan suggesting that people should email Premier Mike Baird who in order to give at least an appearance of openness provides an email screen where we can contact him about our views and concerns. This way of interacting with the public usually means that far more information flows into the system with few responses flowing the other way. However I'm frustrated with the undemocratic nature of NSW government, under both Labor and LNP so I thought I'd send a quick email anyway:
Dear Mr Baird,
I am very disappointed by my recent experiences in attempting to gain information from your government.
I have been trying to use the GIPA Act to access information from the the Westconnex Delivery Authority.
In the process, I've had my informal request rejected because it was mistakenly treated as a formal request and been shifted between sub agencies adding to the time needed both to send in the request and process it.
During this process, I have rung the Information and Privacy Commissioners's office on three occasions. Twice, my call was automatically directed to a message bank and got no return call. On the third occasion, I spoke to someone who didn't know whether a senior citizens's card would entitle me to any reduction in costs. He also didn't even know whether the Office issued annual reports which record the compliance of government agencies. He went to find out but the phone was disconnected after a couple of minutes.
All of this has been to get a list of Westconnex Delivery Authority contracts that would be easily accessible to the public on an ongoing basis if they were Federal contracts.
There needs to be an overhaul of the NSW government's GIPA performance.
There also should be a amendment to the GIPA Act to provide that all contracts be provided on the same basis as if they were Federal contracts. This would mean that contracts of less than $150,000 would be reported as well as those of more than $150,000 and contract notices would be left online and not removed. Transparency in tenders for government services is supposed to be a basic principle of public accountability.
I have also been unable to pay for my GIPA request by credit card. A citizen in the 21st century shouldn't be required to use postal orders or cheques.
I have not even had time to go into my concerns about the flagrant abuse by your government of community and democratic consultation processes in its attempts to force through poorly planned proposals such as the sale of the Australian Technology Park and the PowerHouse museum and the construction of the Westconnex.
I will communicate about them in a separate letter.
I look forward to your response, including how you propose to tackle increasing dissatisfaction with the lack of transparency and accountability of your government.
I've slightly edited and added to the email for clarity so I'll send this version in hard copy to the Premier's office.
I'll let you know how these issues progress.
You can follow my request for the Westconnex contracts on the Right to Know website which is all about assisting transparency in freedom of information. Here's a story we wrote for New Matilda about some of the contracts that are available.