US PRESIDENT Barack Obama, does it; British Prime Minister David Cameron and his ministers do it; and Queensland Premier Campbell Newman plans to do it.
Now the Australian Information Commissioner, John McMillan, has recommended that Prime Minister Julia Gillard also release a version of her official meeting diary, so people can see who is gaining access to the ear of our most powerful person.
”There is undeniably a strong public interest in knowing what ministers are doing officially and who they are meeting or addressing,” the commissioner said in a decision issued in response to a Fairfax Media request under the Freedom of Information Act.
While there was no legal requirement for Ms Gillard to do so, the commissioner said such an approach ”was implicitly encouraged by the FOI Act”.
Professor McMillan noted that Ms Gillard publishes a limited ”public schedule” but said other governments including the British government and that of Mr Newman had gone much further.
A lawyer, Peter Timmins, said the release of information about meetings between leaders and those seeking to influence them was increasingly part of contemporary tools to ensure accountability of government.
”Yet in Australia we have seen resistance to it,” he said.
Mr McMillan ruled against Fairfax on its specific FOI request for one month of the Prime Minister’s diaries on the grounds it would involve too much work for her office. Fairfax made that request in 2010.
It asked for all personal entries and meetings with constituents to be excluded because the FOI Act covers only information relating to activities as a minister.
Ms Gillard’s office responded that the request covered 40 pages and included about 500 entries, which had to be assessed. It estimated that it would take about 163 hours or more than four weeks to process. The commissioner agreed this was too time consuming.
A separate application by a Liberal MP, Paul Fletcher, seeking diary entries relating to meetings between the Prime Minister and the Greens and independent MPs Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott, was successful.
A spokesman for Ms Gillard said she already publishes a detailed diary on her official website (www.pm.gov.au/your-pm/public-schedule). However, the schedule includes only her official public engagements, caucus, question time and cabinet. It does not disclose meetings she has with stakeholders.
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