Just words, words, words! So much for “Public Sector Ethics”

Queensland Parliament Chamber

“The Public Sector Ethics Act 1994 (Qld) (the Ethics Act) establishes four ethical principles which underpin public administration in Queensland and apply to all public service employees:

  • integrity and impartiality
  • promoting the public good
  • commitment to the system of government
  • accountability and transparency.

Each principle is supported by a set of values which describes the behaviour that will demonstrate that principle. The principles and values are both equally important.

All public service entities and employees must demonstrate, promote and comply with these principles and values in their work.”
(Source: Queensland Government).

The Tax Reformer (TTR) has seen only lip service, if at that, being paid to these principles. The overriding principle has been a “siege mentality”, that is, don’t be open even senior officials (see previous Monthly Report), don’t correct errors in the legislation even if they have been to be there for years, don’t engage in meaningful consultation with stakeholders, to name a few.

TTR is in the process of examining the four worthy ethical principles to see if they are actually applied day to day and, particularly if the reality fulfils the requirements of the Rule of Law Institute Wheel discussed in the April 2022 Monthly Report. But for a starter, let’s have a sneak peek at “accountability and transparency” (also described on the Queensland Government website as “Open and transparent government”.)

Accountability and transparency

“In recognition that public trust in public office requires high standards of public administration, public service agencies, public sector entities and public officials:
a. are committed to exercising proper diligence, care and attention
b. are committed to using public resources in an effective and accountable way
c. are committed to managing information as openly as practicable within the legal framework
d. value and seek to achieve high standards of public administration
e. value and seek to innovate and continuously improve performance
f. value and seek to operate within a framework of mutual obligation and shared responsibility between public service agencies, public sector entities and public officials.”
(Source: Queensland Government).

Open and transparent government

“As an open and transparent government, we make information about our activities available for you in a range of formats, and actively engage in the review and improvement of our integrity and accountability framework.

The Right to Information Act 2009 and Information Privacy Act 2009 promote accountability and transparency in government and protect personal information.

As custodians of community information, we will release government-held information unless we think releasing it is not in the public interest.
(Source: Queensland Government).

Examples of that are few: see the Publications & Articles section.

TTR has no problem with the “not in the public interest” qualification, but that should be reserved for papers which go to Cabinet or are legally privileged or commercial in confidence. But organisational charts? Who does what? What is the legislative program? How many objections and appeals are outstanding for resolution? Revenue uncollected? The issues they cover? What is the Commissioner going to do with a judgement against the Commissioner? And so many other innocuous pieces of information which help taxpayers and selfassessors do their job? But, whatever it means, it is so convenient as part of the siege mentality to trot it out with little or no explanation. Why would that be? TTR and the community has a right to know that an open review of these and other papers show good taxation administration, which one would expect to find. It is in the “public interest” for taxpayers to know and to see that the Public Sector Ethics Act is being adhered to by all public service officers.

Remember the Rule of Law Wheel!

Just two Rule of Law principles will suffice for the moment to demonstrate the issues:

  • The law is made by representatives of the people in an open and transparent way.
  • The law is capable of being known by everyone, so that everyone can comply.

TTR has been trying to get copies of the Agendas, agenda papers and Minutes of the Taxation Consultative Committee of the QRO for weeks now. TTR made an application under the Right to Information Act but it got knocked back! Why? The issues for and against were looked at. In the end it seems that some notion that disclosure would not be in the public interest and that a misguided notion of confidentiality swung the wheel to non-disclosure. Really! Subscribers can have a copy of the letter if they wish so they can read it in detail.

What next? Government by decree? We’ve already got that in those “Administration Arrangements” examined in previous Issues of The Monthly Report.
Subsequent Issues of The Monthly Report will dig further into this highly important matter.

Democracy demands it!!