Publishing ministerial diaries in NSW: one small step for democracy

Publishing ministerial diaries in NSW — overseen by the Premier’s Department — brings needed transparency to the work of government in a state gripped by corruption scandal.

Innovation rarely happens in an orderly or planned manner, nor does it necessarily involve one big idea or breakthrough. It can be defensive rather than pro-active, and it can seem minor or even trivial in nature. But it can have significant implications for the way things are done.

One such innovation is the decision by New South Wales Premier Mike Baird (pictured) to require all ministers to publish extracts from their diaries, detailing meetings held with organisations and individuals who seek to influence government policy or decisions. It commenced on July 1, and mirrors a similar scheme operating in Queensland.

On the surface, this is a small innovation. It was prompted by a range of external factors, including: reputational damage to the government by the activities of lobbyists; recommendations by the Independent Commission Against Corruption relating to political lobbyists going back as far 2010; and the introduction of a bill by Opposition Leader John Robertson requiring the publication of ministerial diaries of all meetings and interactions with lobbyists, private companies and MPs relating to commercial decisions or transactions.

To his credit, Baird — who has quickly become a proponent of innovation in the NSW public sector — grasped the nettle, and introduced a “disclosure rule” requiring all ministers to publish quarterly diary summaries of external meetings held on portfolio-related matters.

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