A culture of secrecy and a desire for non-disclosure are still commonplace across many areas of politics and the bureaucracy, according to Professor Ken Smith, Dean and Chief Executive of the Australian and New Zealand School of Government.
Professor Smith made this claim during his delivery of this year’s Right to Information (RTI) Day Solomon Lecture, titled Trust, transparency and right to information: accountability in an age of democratic disquiet.
“Work that makes government more transparent or improves integrity must be seen as essential for rebuilding the trust that makes it possible for governments to operate effectively and work for the public good.”
In the lecture, Professor Smith also advocated for the need to return to the basics of our fundamental purpose of ensuring public trust, and the need to always operate in the public interest rather than serve narrower sectional interests.
Professor Smith said, “We need to understand our relative position as public officers within the community as elites and ensure that government is not perceived as being of the elites, by the elites, and for the elites.”
“The Right to Information reforms and their implementation are so important to reversing the massive declines in trust. We must do our utmost to ensure engaged, participatory and deliberative democracy.”
“Focusing on transparency in the way we go about our business and continuing to open up government, and of course access to the information which supports our evidentiary basis for decision making—will bring huge benefits to the community and importantly build rather than continue to erode trust in our democratic institutions,” Professor Smith said.
Queensland’s Information Commissioner, Ms Rachael Rangihaeata, said, “RTI Day celebrations and the Solomon Lecture are a timely reminder that building community trust through more open, transparent and accountable government requires strong leadership and continual work by all levels of the public service.”
“We must be proactive and vigilant in ensuring a right to access government-held information, and Queensland government agencies have a responsibility to release information unless it is contrary to the public interest to do so,” Ms Rangihaeata said.
A copy of Professor Smith’s speech and recording of the 2018 Solomon Lecture are available at www.oic.qld.gov.au/rtiday2018
The Solomon Lecture was hosted by the Office of the Information Commissioner in partnership with the Queensland Public Service Commission.