Readers respond: What is your experience of secretive government
Advertisement

Readers respond: What is your experience of secretive government

Councillor Ben Buckley told us how frustrated he was by the level of secrecy in local councils.

Councillor Ben Buckley told us how frustrated he was by the level of secrecy in local councils.

Photo: Justin McManus

The Age’s series, The Secret State, examined how Victorians are being kept in the dark by our government, public services and legal system.

The response was astonishing. Hundreds of readers shared their stories about the secrecy they’ve faced, and how our institutions should be more open and accountable. Overwhelmingly, frustrations centred on Victoria’s Freedom of Information laws.

Freedom of Information

Experienced the joys of Vic Police FOI processes, and came to realise the title ‘FOI Officer’ actually means Fobbing Off Inquiries Officer”. Marc

Advertisement

I have spent over $100,000 on FOI appeals at VCAT. Taxpayers have been billed probably over a million $'s to ensure that [various agencies] are never accountable over my daughter's death. The Coroners Court and the [Office of the Public Advocate] are totally FOI exempt. Negligence and corruption hidden. Anonymous

In our neighbourhood of Eaglemont an electrical substation is almost finished being constructed. The residents fought against it for months. Due to lack of proper consultation we applied to FOI. It became very apparent that the role of FOI was to obstruct, delay and where possible not answer our requests. Absolutely appalling, their actions went against everything I thought a democracy was about. Peter Camilleri

Loading

I requested info from DHHS (the Department of Health and Human Services) about an investigation against me as a worker, including the actual allegations, any reports, testimonies or correspondence, medical reports, or evidence, and they gave me 12 pages - all letters I had sent to them. Anonymous

I requested and received some incriminating documents. A year later asked for the same docs out of curiosity and received a different set of very much sanitised docs. I then asked for a one page doc (which I knew had my signature on it) and I received a doc which had been altered and no signature on it. Phil

Other issues

Victorians are concerned about a range of issues when it comes to state secrecy.

Loading

Public Private Partnerships. Try to understand the details, backdoor deals and concessions given through any of the PPPs that the state signs up to, which is most of our infrastructure these days. All hidden, signed up and locked away due to a convenient ‘commercial in confidence’ position, despite it still being taxpayers money at use. Anonymous

The way that VCAT operates, especially in the Guardianship and Administration list is shrouded in secrecy. Anonymous

I am a social worker with highly vulnerable families … I have been refused a copy of the family’s intervention order against the children’s father by child protection. They have stated they are not allowed to provide me a copy or give a copy to the schools where the children attend. This is despite significant family violence perpetrated by the father which caused child protection’s involvement. As such, I am unable to provide a clear safety plan with the mother. Anonymous

The public need to be given information so that they can make informed decisions about contentious (and costly) issues such as Melbourne’s Formula One grand prix. Peter and Joan Logan

Loading

At Box Hill Hospital, our outpatient staff were told not to book any new patients in for two months prior to the time that waiting list numbers are reported. This was to avoid increasing the waiting list numbers. Anonymous

Information obtained under FOI revealed that there is currently 29 [Program for Students with Disabilities] funded students at Emerald Secondary College and the school has received in excess of $500K in each of the past four years. Yet according to DET – “no documents exist” regarding the expenditure of this money or staffing. Despite this claim that “no documents exist”, the DET was actually quoted in a recent newspaper article providing some of the exact information it says “does not exist”. Lynne Stack

On the other hand ...

I would like to stand up for public servants and government in this instance...it is extremely burdensome to gather FOI information and data. - Anonymous

Loading

Yes transparency in principle is good, but in reality, it leads to byzantine process, to excessive paperwork and tortuous rabbit holes to cover any possible consideration that any conceivable person may have. so called "Due Diligence" to spend a few thousand dollars can end up costing many tens of thousands, or more. Billy Bob

If you’re after a novel solution to the section 25A "unreasonable diversion of resources" for rejecting (FOI) claims, I’d like to offer this idea: a "flying squad" of (say) three or four qualified, security-vetted Victorian public service staff based in the Department of Justice and Regulation. They work on a fee-for-service basis, and act as the necessary resources the government department claims a request requires. The flying squad can descend on the relevant part of the Victorian Public Service to assist with document searching and processing. Anonymous

The regulatory environment hasn't kept up with the way government information is generated, and the stretches on government resourcing to manage the regulatory and compliance environment has never been greater. (Being an FOI officer) is a completely thankless task, and the pressures brought to bear on what tend to be very junior departmental staff are intense. And, it is worth noting, when an FOI officer sends out a search memo it is sometimes the first time anyone has 'audited' how and why decisions are made. You can imagine how this can be received, particularly on controversial projects.  Anonymous

Loading

There are many requirements for councils, and all public institutions, to operate in secrecy in order to make them efficient, deal with matters that may affect an individual or a Company’s rights, and when considering financial matters. Closed meetings are a necessary part of dealing with purchasing. It cannot be any other way. Just imagine if next time you are purchasing a car that the dealer knows exactly what you are looking for and exactly what you are prepared to pay! - Mark Foord