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See Alan Ramsey and outgoing Minister for Defence John Faulkner at the Sydney Writers' Festival in May 2010

 

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Cabinet Secretary and Special Minister of State

Developments in Integrity and Accountability

As the first Cabinet Secretary and Special Minister of State in the Rudd Government, I oversaw significant progress towards fulfilling election commitments and restoring a high level of integrity to government in Australia. 

For the first time, many integrity and governance functions were brought together under a single Minister:

  • Public service administration
     
  • Freedom of Information
     
  • Privacy
     
  • Transparency and accountability
     
  • Electoral law
     
  • Government advertising
     
  • Codes of conduct, including for the first time a code of conduct for Ministerial staff
     
  • The register for lobbyists
     
  • The National Archives
     
  • The Museum of Democracy at Old Parliament House
     
  • Integrity Agencies, including the Auditor-General, the Ombudsman, the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security

These are all areas of policy that have a direct bearing on government accountability, on transparency, and on government integrity. 

As the Chief Justice of NSW, James Spigelman, said in his 2004 lecture on ‘The Integrity Branch of Government’, government integrity is where:

“each governmental institution exercises the powers conferred on it in the manner in which it is expected and/or required to do so and for the purposes for which those powers were conferred, and for no other purpose”. 

Government integrity is about methods and means, as much as it is about the individual probity of officials and bureaucrats.

In all these areas, the Rudd Government has made significant progress towards developing a strong framework supporting the return of a high standard of integrity to Federal government in Australia.

A significant plank of this framework was public service and public administration reform.


The Public Service

We have strengthened the framework supporting the APS in its unique position in relation to the Federal Government and the Australian community, where both depend on the APS to deliver the programs and services that put government policies into practice.  Reforms delivered by the Rudd Government include: 

  • New merit selection processes for Agency Heads
     
  • Removal of performance pay for Departmental Secretaries and senior statutory office holders
     
  • Establishment of the Ethics Advisory Service

To examine the serious issue of support for those, including public servants, who become aware of misadministration and who do the right thing by reporting it, the Government referred the issue of protection for whistleblowers to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs in 2008. Under Chairman Mark Dreyfus, the Committee reported in March 2009, recommending a comprehensive whistleblower protection scheme. 

On 17 March 2010, Senator Joe Ludwig released the Government’s response, setting out the framework for the first stand-alone whistleblower protection scheme at federal level, another significant milestone in delivering on the Rudd Government’s integrity agenda.

The Government response will now be used as the basis to develop public interest disclosure legislation for introduction later this year.
For the first time, Commonwealth law will provide protections for public disclosures, including to the media and other third parties. 


Freedom of Information (FOI)

Another area of public administration that supports transparency and accountability is Freedom of Information. The Rudd Government brought   privacy law reform into the same portfolio as Freedom of Information to reflect the fact that both these areas are fundamentally about the right to use, control and access information.

The government has made significant steps forward in this area.

We abolished the use of conclusive certificates in 2008 and in 2010 we passed legislation setting out the most ambitious pro-disclosure reforms to the FOI Act since its inception in 1982. These reforms will recognise the importance to Australia’s democracy of, as the proposed new objects of the Act state, “increasing public participation in Government processes, leading to better informed decision making, increasing scrutiny, discussion, comment and review of the Government’s activities” and increasing “recognition that information held by the Government is to be managed for public purposes, and is a national resource”. 

The centrepiece of these reforms is the establishment of the Office of the Information Commissioner, bringing oversight of FOI and privacy together in a single office.  Professor John McMillan AO has been appointed the Information Commissioner designate.

 The legislation also includes major new transparency measures: 

  • A new publication scheme for government information;
     
  • New public interest provisions;  shorter access periods for Government records under the Archives Act; a reduction from 30 to 20 years for official records of cabinet and a reduction from 50 to 30 years for Cabinet notebooks; and
     
  • The abolition of application fees for FOI requests.
     

Transparency and Accountability

The question of transparency and accountability remains one that is influenced profoundly by the way Ministers of a government, and their staff, behave.  We committed to improve standards of parliamentary accountability and the frameworks around government integrity, and have made considerable improvements:

  • The Government’s changes to the Standards of Ministerial Ethics were released three days after the Government was sworn into office, introducing tougher restrictions on Ministers holding investments, as well as new rules preventing Ministers from making a direct transition straight from working in an area to lobbying for a company in that area.
     
  • The Government introduced a new Lobbying Code of Conduct,  establishing a Register of Lobbyists.

Lobbyists who represent third parties must now be listed on the Register or they cannot lobby Government representatives.

  • The government, for the first time, introduced a Code of Conduct for ministerial staff.
     
  • The average times to answer House of Representative questions  reduced from 207 to 60 days after the change of government.  Similarly, in the Senate, average response times decreased from 115 days to 74 days .

In addition, the Government  reined in the entitlements given to all Members and Senators and made them more transparent. We reduced the printing entitlement for Senators and Members to $16,667 and $100,000 respectively per financial year and ended the roll-over rort where 40% of the entitlement could be ‘saved up’ from one year to the next.

In 2008 I tabled the inaugural MOP(S) Act Annual Report

This was the first time that detailed information about MOP(S) Act employees has been published, including a staffing overview, position allocations and employee numbers and types, salary ranges and non-salary benefits, and a range of other staffing-related information.  This will continue to be reported to Parliament and to the public on a yearly basis.


Government Online Information Policy

In 2008, Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner and I co-sponsored the development of the Government 2.0 Task Force to examine ways of freeing up and reusing Government information online for the public good.

The Task Force has released its report on the way forward, and has sponsored competitions to encourage reuse of information in a Web 2 environment.  Their report can be found here.


Advertising

In addition, the Government introduced a new process and guidelines for government advertising, to take the politics out of Government communications.

The Government has abolished the Ministerial Committee of Government Communications, which was comprised of Ministers, Liberal MPs and senior Ministerial staff.

Development of Government communication campaigns is now managed at a departmental, not a political, level.

 

Electoral Reform

On March 28, 2008, I announced a comprehensive reform agenda for Commonwealth electoral law.

This agenda included three main elements.

The first was The Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Political Donations and Other Measures) Bill, introduced into the Senate in May 2008. It sought to make a range of important reforms to the financial disclosure regime in the Electoral Act, including: 

  • Lowering the donation disclosure threshold from more than $10,000 indexed, to $1,000
     
  • Preventing donation splitting to avoid the donation disclosure threshold, by treating donations to different branches of a political party as donations to the same party
     
  • Banning overseas donations
     
  • Banning anonymous donations, unless they are donations of $50 or less received through fundraising activities
     
  • Increasing the reporting obligations on political parties, candidates and other participants in the political process and
     
  • Tying public funding to verified electoral expenditure to ensure that political parties and candidates cannot make a profit from public funding.

The Opposition blocked these reforms at every available opportunity, including:

  • By referring the Bill to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (JSCEM) for a period of more than 12 months
     
  • When the JSCEM reported early on the Bill, in October 2008, Opposition members dissented from the majority report and argued that the reforms should be delayed
     
  • By voting against the measures in the Senate in March 2009 which, together with Senator Fielding’s vote, meant the legislation was defeated
     
  • By voting against a reintroduced Bill in the House of Representatives
     
  • By voting against allowing the Senate to consider the Bill during the March 2009 sittings, delaying the legislation yet again

Despite ongoing opposition, the Government remains committed to passing this Bill, to help restore integrity and transparency to our electoral laws.
The second main element of the Government’s comprehensive reform agenda was the Electoral Reform Green Paper on Donations, Funding and Expenditure, released in December 2008. 

This Green Paper put forward a range of options for more fundamental reform to the regulation of political finance in Australia. These options include:

  • Capping, or even banning, donations
     
  • Capping expenditure
     
  • Amending the current system of public funding

The Green Paper was open for public submissions until 23 February 2009. Fifty submissions were received from the public.  The Government is currently considering the way forward.

The third main element is the Second Electoral Reform Green Paper, which was released in late 2009.
 
This Green Paper examines a broader range of reforms to the Commonwealth Electoral Act, including possible changes to the system of enrolment and voting. 

Throughout the development of the first and second Green Papers, the Government has worked closely with the States and Territories. This consultation has involved an unprecedented series of meetings with State and Territory Ministers with responsibility for electoral matters. This level of co-operation demonstrated the Government’s genuine interest in electoral reform. 

In February 2010, the Government introduced a bill into parliament which fulfilled the election commitment to restore the close of rolls period to seven days after the issuing of the writs, as well as allowing for electronic update of enrolment and removing other barriers which, in the 2007 election, prevented many Australians from exercising their vote.
 

 

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