Transparency is the key
This op-ed was written by Sven Bluemmel, Victorian Information Commissioner and was published in the Herald Sun on 28 September 2021
If governments are not transparent, they will lose our trust.
When we vote at elections, we do not grant a licence to the elected government to do whatever it wants and not tell anyone about it.
That is not how democracy works. We abide by laws and government policy on the understanding government is there to look after the public interest.
Likewise, we pay taxes on the understanding that government will be open, honest and accountable to us when it spends public money.
Transparency of government actions is crucial to achieving accountability. It is simply not enough to say “just trust us” or “it was a one-off” if things go wrong.
When the public only discovers what a government did, or failed to do, after the events have passed, it fuels a perception government is hiding something.
Public trust is eroded every time there is a delay in the release of information or a freedom of information exemption is applied in a questionable way.
At a time when misinformation is fanned by social media, it is critical governments share the reasoning and evidence that supports decision making. A healthy democracy needs informed public debate.
My office recently commissioned two reports that explore the culture of freedom of information in Victoria.
These reports found transparency will be improved by agencies “pushing” information to the public proactively, rather than waiting for the public to ask for it. They also support modernisation of Victoria’s ageing FOI legislation.
On International Access to Information Day (September 28), it is important to note that governments will be much better placed to tackle the big challenges of our time if they earn our trust by being open and accountable in everything they do.