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ACT public servants chauffeured to rugby in helicopter

Two Justice and Community Safety Directorate staff members were chauffeured by helicopter to the rugby where they were wined and dined before watching the match.

The joy ride in the Snowy Hydro Southcare chopper - which delivered the match ball to Canberra Stadium in July 2016 - to watch the ACT Brumbies was offered as “acknowledgement of services provided to the aeromedical service”, documents said.

ACT public servants were provided with dozens of free tickets to sports fixtures and cultural events, including NRL, Super Rugby, Asian Cup soccer, swimming, symphony performances, and gallery exhibitions.

Databases of gifts and hospitality also show ACT public servants were lavished with dinners, cocktail functions, food, wine, and champagne as part of their employment.

In one declaration, ACT Emergency Services staff were donated 1000 hydration drinks as an unsolicited gift in thanks for their firefighting efforts.

Donors listed on the register include international giants Microsoft, Uber, Aecom, IBM, Qatar Airways, Deliotte, and KPMG.

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The registers - obtained by Fairfax Media under freedom of information laws – are not published externally, however, a government spokesman said the ACT public service was currently investigating making the databases publicly available.

Earlier this year, Fairfax Media revealed the extraordinary culture of giving within the federal public service, which include about $490,000 worth of gifts, sponsorship and hospitality from weapons industry heavyweights and other companies to the Defence department.

The largesse extends to the ACT public service, albeit on a smaller scale.

Fairfax Media received hundreds of pages of declarations in response to an FOI request to access the catalogue.

The handouts are often small and inexpensive, but when calculated across seven directorates over a number of years, total in the tens-of-thousands of dollars.

Not all gifts were kept by the recipients, and many were donated, shared, or raffled.

Fresh laws recently introduced an open-access scheme to the ACTs’ FOI regime, which provides some government information to the public without the need for a formal request.

Information that is now disclosed includes policy documents, details about agency activities and budgeting, ministerial and staff travel and hospitality expenses, and ministers' diaries.

The gifts and hospitality databases are currently not listed as documents required to be made publicly available as open access information under the Freedom of Information Act.

However, Canberrans may soon be able to access the information without making a formal request, after the Chief Minister, Treasury and Economic Development Directorate revealed it was “currently investigating proactively publishing gift/hospitality registers in future”.

No timeframe for the change was provided.

A CMTEDD spokeswoman said the ACT public service valued open government and the release of information, both proactively as well as through the FOI process.

“Part of this investigation is to ensure that personal and commercial in confidence information would be protected effectively before publication.”

The spokeswoman said, to date, the ACT public service had taken great strides towards proactively published information that falls within the definition of ‘Open Access Information’ under the FOI Act.

“To date, 3320 documents have been published on the Open Access website,” she said.

“We are currently reviewing additional documentation that may be published on the Open Access website to further progress our commitment to transparency and accountability measures.”

The ACT Greens said a "wealth of information" had been regularly made available to the public under the new regime.

“We would be interested to see what other items come up over the next year or so, that people think should be added to the open access information list," the Greens spokeswoman said.

“When we developed the legislation last Assembly, we prioritised the issues of most interest to the public, which is what you see in the current Act.”