Open Government, Olympic Dam & State Development – A Letter to Premier Weatherill

If you follow politics in South Australia, you’ll probably be aware that we now have a newly created Department of State Development. This replaces the formerly awkward acronym DMITRE (the Department of Mining, Infrastructure, Trade, Resources & Energy) and essentially serves the 20th century vision of resource-extraction lead industrial development and pursuit of perpetual economic growth.

BHP Billiton's Olympic Dam Mine Site 2011

BHP Billiton’s Olympic Dam Mine Site 2011 – The World’s Largest Underground Mine

The latest example of this can be seen in the recent appointment of former BHP Billiton coal and uranium executive Kym Winter-Dewhirst to Chief Executive of the Department of Premier & Cabinet- the State’s highest ranking bureaucrat. The ‘Blue Economy’ is expanding to accommodate oil and gas drilling off Kangaroo island and in the Great Australian Bight, fracking is already underway in the Cooper Basin and future fracking is casting shadows over agricultural areas in the State’s south-east. Farmers are locking horns with prospective copper and iron ore miners on both Yorke and Eyre Peninsulas over the potential loss of agricultural land and depleted or contaminated water resources.

With hope for South Australia’s economic salvation reaching a new and increasingly desperate phase, I thought it was as good a time as any to ask Premier Weatherill to follow up on his commitment to deliver open and transparent governance to South Australians, within the context of State Development. I was horrified to read this week that Queensland appears to be heading in the opposite direction. Unlike our beguiled north-eastern neighbours, South Australia has an Upper House and as of 2013, an ICAC to theoretically retain some checks and balances… but I digress.

Since assuming the role of Premier in 2011, Weatherill has demonstrated that openness and transparency are his own personal core values, and he has referred to them frequently in a range of contexts. He delivered on this publicly with a mass public release of Government expenses in October 2013. This followed the launch of a Declaration of Open Data in September, which established ‘open data’ as a new norm for Government departments and agencies. I must admit that I was quite astonished when a specific request which I had made through data.sa.gov.au and several other avenues calling for the establishment of a Development Application Public Register was honoured. I even received a polite notification drawing my attention to its creation.

Unfortunately, the State’s rusty legislation can work against the move towards open data and open Government- at least in cases where it has been drafted to afford developers or industrialists protection from public scrutiny. This creates problems when seeking data on the Olympic Dam mine project’s safety and environmental records for example (thanks to provisions within the Roxby Downs (Indenture Ratification) Act 1982) and similarly, disclosure limitations and bypasses are available in a range of forms to other developers under the Development Act 1993.

I thought I would gently draw the Premier’s attention to this friction, and make a couple of simple requests for increased disclosure. The letter follows, as sent today.

 


 

Dear Premier,

 

Firstly, let me applaud your commitment to open government- since your appointment I can genuinely say that as a democratically engaged citizen I have better access to information than I did previously under Rann leadership.

As you likely already know, I have spent several years researching development around the Spencer Gulf region, and I’m am currently seeking information related to several matters of State Development. This informs my independent investigative work as a documentary filmmaker.

Firstly, I would like to ask you if the Government will publish the names of all members of the Olympic Dam Task Force on its website for the benefit of the public. I understand that this is a small group of people, but to date I have only been able to piece together a partial list from news media stories.

Also I wish to point out the severe limitations regarding access to Development Application information. I was very pleased when my request for the establishment of a Development Application Public Register was honoured and I am now writing to request that its short-comings be addressed.

In my opinion it should:

– include all Development Applications lodged prior to 2010 (from 2000 onwards would be ideal) and;

– include the Development Applications themselves and agency responses, not just the final Decision Document.

By providing the Decision Document only, elements of the original Development Applications can be deduced, but projects cannot be understood and considered in their totality.

Once again, thank you for your commitment to open government, and I hope that you will be able to implement these requests and recommendations.

 

Best,

 

Dan Monceaux

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Dan Monceaux is a South Australian documentary filmmaker and the director of Cuttlefish Country.

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