Australian Lefty on Politics, Governance, Science and Info Management

Phone-in and blog launched by Oz Law Reform Commission

Posted by Dave Bath on 2009-02-09

A new government blog as a means of conversation with citizens has been launched, by the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC), together with a two-day "phone-in".

Unlike "Conroy’s stillborn attempt at openness" (2008-12-28), the new blog is concerned with one issue as part of the "Government Secrecy Review" (2009-01-20).

The ALRC has been a lot smarter than Conroy: even if you aren’t interested in this particular consultation, it is well worth while browsing around the site if you are interested in how any consultation could be organized.

The wider review has a number of features that ensure you are well-informed, and can make comments in the best channel to get to the most appropriate people: it…

Obviously McClelland and/or the ALRC folk have more clues about efficient process, and a greater desire for real consultation than Conroy, who may have created his "blog" as a show piece in an attempt to appear "with-it" and counter the tech-unsavvy image he has developed.

When you look at the "Talking Secrecy" forum, it gets even more impressive.

  • An introductory page, as well as providing general information, outlines the difference between Secrecy and Privacy laws, again, keeping things on-topic
  • The main "Talking Secrecy" ( page presents you with not just a blank "login page", but a brief note about the forum, the number of topics and posts, together with other typical stuff you’d expect of a forum site, including viewing unanswered posts, active topics.
  • The announcement for the phone-in page gives the basic information, and has an extra post from the admin explaining that it is probably relevant only for past and present government employees (although I’d suggest it also includes those who handle government information on behalf of government, including private contractors).
  • The dates for the phone-in are usually bolded to help you find them quickly (will operate between 8am and 8pm on Wednesday 11 February and Thursday 12 February 2009. Call 1800 760 291.)
  • The forum has topics with specific questions (e.g. "what types of information should be covered by security laws?"), again to both focus participants and make it easy to get the information to the right people inside the ALRC.
  • It uses free and open-source software (phpBB on top of a more recent version of apache than the main ALRC site: so much more reliable and securable than the Microsoft IIS used by the Australian Parliament!)
  • Registered users can not only give responses to questions, but can create NEW topic threads.
  • Lots of other things to like!

Now the part for the politicians to do next….

  • Get other agencies using similar tools and approaches.
  • Improve the way that citizens can find inquiries, with a whole-of-government (preferably across states as well) top-level inquiry page, and broken up by topics and specific keywords.
  • GET METADATA SORTED! The key problem is getting metadata into emails, probably using IETF RFC-822 "X-Headers"… but this should only require a quiet word with the Mozilla Thunderbird folk and a tiny bit of money to help them do it
  • Put in a whole-of-government (again, ideally across the states as well) Google open to the public, and also, with more documents visible, to all agency staff
  • Get a proper whole-of-government identity management system so citizens can have a single sign-on – just like for Google’s mail, documents, readers, etc applications
  • Get some RSS aggregations that are tagged by topic, again across government.  These should be fine-grained enough so subscribers can see what they need, but aren’t flooded.

Even an earlier media announcement was properly set up with metadata in the html head section, with the keywords and tags specific and relevant rather than just echoing the title (it is a regulatory requirement, but very few agencies do it correctly):

<title>ALRC - On-line</title>
<link rel="schema.AGLS" href=""&gt;
<meta name="DC.Identifier" scheme="URI" content=""&gt;
<meta name="DC.Creator" scheme="GOLD" content="c=AU;o=Commonwealth of Australia;ou=Australian Law Reform Commission">
<meta name="DC.Publisher" scheme="GOLD" content="c=AU;o=Commonwealth of Australia;ou= Australian Law Reform Commission">
<meta name="DC.Title" content="2008 media releases and briefing papers">
<meta name="DC.Subject" scheme="TAGS" content="reform; law; inquiry; privacy; intergovernmental relations; Chief justice Australia; Federal government; legal profession; commissions of inquiry">
<meta name="AGLS.Function" scheme="AGIFT" content="information dissemination; legislation review">
<meta name="DC.Coverage.temporal" content="2008">
<meta name="DC.Date" scheme="ISO8601" content="2008-07-31">
<meta name="DC.Description" content="All Australian Law Reform Commission media releases and media briefing papers released in 2008.">
<meta name="DC.Type.documentType" scheme="agls-document" content="index">
<meta name="DC.Type.aggregrationLevel" content="collection">


See Also/Notes


One Response to “Phone-in and blog launched by Oz Law Reform Commission”

  1. Dave Bath said

    While the ALRC has done it’s best, there has already been a comment about Conroy’s filter plans underneath the wrong question.

    This comment (about the secret list of blocked URLs as part of Conroy’s scheme) was under "Do secrecy laws apply to you?" when it should have been made to "What types of information need to be kept secret?".

    Not using the consultation blog/bb appropriately actually makes it harder for your voice to be heard, as your comment might not easily get to the person looking after that aspect of the inquiry.

    And yes… I’ve already made a couple of comments (but they get moderated before publication)

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