Dr MEHREEN FARUQI (16:01): In moments of despair at the state of politics in New South Wales, I like to imagine the Premier accidentally redacting a birthday card to a friend, unsure how else to handle a document heading out of her office. There may be some dark joy in this image, but it is all too close to home. There is no greater symbol of the lack of government accountability in this State than the sight of thick black lines that hide information that is important to the people of New South Wales. Last week the black marker was wielded again when the Government was dragged, kicking and screaming, to release the business cases for moving the Powerhouse Museum and its stadium rebuilds. Instead of making themselves accountable to the public, Government members continue to pull every trick in the book to keep secret the justification—or lack thereof—for spending billions and selling public assets.
This, of course, is typical of the Liberals. The posture of this Government is anti-accountability at all times. Hundreds of billions of dollars in public funds are spent without the Government feeling any need whatsoever to involve the Parliament and community in a meaningful conversation about the decisions and their consequences. The Government relies on a near-impenetrable bureaucratic fog to shield these decisions for the benefit of its mates in mining, gambling, tolling, the banks and big business. It goes so far as to rely on the vagaries of corporate structures to avoid sorely needed transparency. Internal Government emails have shown that the decision to have Infrastructure NSW lead the stadium rebuild was to avoid the need for public hearings and independent scrutiny.
When the community, media and other politicians ask questions or lodge Government Information (Public Access) Act applications, they are met with silence and evasion, with seemingly everything being in Cabinet or commercial confidence. This is what happens when there is a secretive government with a propensity to privatise everything. Avenues for review are similarly involved and time consuming, shutting out citizens and community groups from a process that should facilitate public discussion of government decisions. Indeed, to add insult to injury, the Government has wasted an untold amount of taxpayer money and time in the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal, the courts and both Houses of Parliament in an attempt to keep information out of the public’s reach.
The Premier is so obsessed with secrecy that the stadiums business case was kept from most of the Cabinet. We know this because Government Ministers took their frustration to theSydney Morning Herald. I would like to offer the Premier a new and easy test of whether a policy is worth pursuing: If she is worried about losing the support of her own Cabinet by showing them the numbers, then it is definitely a bad policy. But that is not all. The Government sat on the Tune report into out-of-home care for two years and when it was released the Minister for Family and Community Services refused to answer any questions about the Government’s failures to reform the sector—she hung up on the radio host instead.
Despite its best efforts, we have held the Government to account. Each win felt like pulling teeth from a government bureaucracy desperately in need of a trip to the dentist, but they were wins nonetheless. During my five years in this place we have forced the release of many hidden documents, including hundreds of secret WestConnex documents—today is was announced there will be an inquiry into the debacle that is WestConnex—thousands of papers from Greyhound Racing NSW and documents proving that the Government misled the public about the need for the Thirroul rail tunnel. We have exposed the Government’s efforts to run down bus services only to sell them off, and instigated the Auditor-General’s inquiry into Newcastle public transport. We have exposed the Government’s plans to strip animal welfare organisations of their charitable status, the cutting down of thousands of trees under land clearing laws and the waste of hundreds of millions of dollars on the botched project to upgrade technology systems for transport agencies.
It really should not require constant vigilance and jumping through hoops for the smallest amount of government transparency. For a start, we should exempt community groups and individuals from Government Information (Public Access) Act application fees and increase the independence of right to information officers. But much more needs to change to remove the veil of secrecy. I may not be around in the world of Macquarie Street politics for much longer, but members better believe that I will not stop airing this Government’s dirty laundry. The Greens remain absolutely committed to making transparency and accountability more than buzzwords. We will keep holding governments—now and in the future—to that standard.