Legal threat on Brumby files.
I gave the title of this blog post with a bit of tongue in cheek. The other day I attended a seminar presentation by the fabulous Barbara Reed about wikileaks – which I tweeted – and she said the often very (obvious yet) controversial statement:
“Records and archives are always political.”
The thing that interests me about these Brumby records is that it was argued that…
“the plans, written by media advisers for their ministers, were of a political nature and did not relate to affairs of an agency or department. It also argued the plans were not official documents of ministers…”
One of the things about FOI legislation, which also applies to granting access to records under Privacy legislation, is that the records ‘creator’ can provide an argument as to why the records cannot be accessed. If you do not like the argument, then the option is to take the organisation or records creators to court. Not ideal for most people. Anyway, in this case, they did (well VCAT) and the result was that…
“Judge Felicity Hampel rejected this argument. She found the documents were official ministerial documents, did relate to the affairs of public agencies and ”there was a considerable overlap between the business of government and the promotion of the political image of the government in the community”.”
This is indeed an interesting outcome as lawyer Peter Timmins said it “showed there was not necessarily a distinction between the public relations side of government and the business of governing”.
As Monash University I am helping teach this semester the course on Managing Business records – as I have blogged about already. The part I presented was on functional analysis, organisational analysis and risk management. These types of analysis help understand the mandate or core business function of an organisation. Under this core function a map of activities are grouped together at different levels to help figure out what it is that the organisation does – by looking at the work it performs. It is not an organsational chart, but rather a grouping together of the different types of actions.
Where I am going with this is that this kind of hierarchical modelling shows that there is a relationship with the core business of an organisation and the activities that it does. Marketing, as an activity, is part of achieving that core business. It does not matter what the marketing is for really, as it is part of the activities undertaken by the organisation. It does not matter if that activity is done by employees of the organisation or external contractors or consultants. The activity may even be called different things like promotion, public relations, media relations, community relations, external relations, public affairs and so on.
In many of the functional analyses I have been conducting recently at the Brotherhood of St Laurence, it has become clear that many departments manage themselves, as well as provide service to other departments or to external clients. All these activities are related to the core business goal of this organisation, or even each business goal of each division of the organisation. The activity of marketing is in fact found in all of the departments and divisions, not just the one division dedicated to it. Advocacy is also a type of marketing for the organisation and being a lobby group, it is important to have image, core business and the position on public policy linked together. It is the same for the Government.
I think these types of analysis reveal the nature of an organisation and can help with identifying areas that are not as transparent. A functional analysis is about identifying the outcome of actions – the records – and whether or not the actions are supporting the outcomes as well as they should. A functional analysis also helps identify what records are vital and the implications of records over time – who might want to access certain types of records in the future and why. I have done many many functional analysis now and would say that I am becoming somewhat of an expert in the area. It helps that I enjoy the analytical process -a lot.
So, back to the Brumby & Ballieu Governments. As a Victorian, it is important to me that there is transparency in Government. I hope that this records-withholding issue is resolved soon. I am also interested, as a records professional, in how the document crimes and public records acts might be used in court in this case.