Government off the record: the limits of transparency

Public officials should always create and carefully retain records of any important discussions, and make sure all parties agree they are accurate. But according to FOI supporters, lots of mandarins prefer a culture of unofficial secrecy where oral conversations and official records do not match.

The recent appearance of Attorney-General’s Department secretary Chris Moraitis before a Senate Estimates committee revealed a surprisingly casual attitude towards creating and retaining records of important discussions with other senior public officials.

Asked about a particular phone call with attorney-general George Brandis on February 2, and a meeting with Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs the following day, the obviously uncomfortable secretary said he took some notes of both but could not find them.

That those particular notes were misplaced is unfortunate, especially for the opposition and cross-bench senators hoping to investigate a serious discrepancy between the testimony of Triggs and Moraitis.

Chris Moraitis

Chris Moraitis

FREE membership to The Mandarin

Receive unlimited access, get all the latest public sector news and features, plus The Juice, our daily news update sent direct to your inbox.

The Mandarin is where Australia's public sector leaders discuss their work and the issues faced within modern bureaucracy. Join today to discover the latest in public administration thinking and news from our dedicated reporters, current and former agency heads and senior executives.