Image for Whatever Happened to Forestry Tasmania’s “Battered Briefcase”?

Two and a half years ago, Forestry Tasmania (FT) announced a muted mea culpa and confessed to some of its sins. In a media release—titled “The battered brief case is gone”—FT promised that it would become more consultative, open and transparent. (Hat tip to Charles Gilmour.) FT’s Managing Director, Bob Gordon, even promised that the agency would be “pursuing meaningful dialogue with critics, including environmental groups.”

Gordon explained that after critical feedback from unnamed ‘stakeholders’, FT had decided that it had to change. “It was suggested that we were carrying around a locked battered brief case, and it was time to let everyone see what was inside. So today [an open day at FT HQ on June 1, 2007] is a step towards unlocking the brief case and consigning it to history,” Mr Gordon said.

So what happened? It is hard to discern any change for the better in FT’s response to its critics or (HERE) journalists.

As for openness and transparency, even FT’s “The battered brief case is gone” media release has disappeared from their website. Trawl their website and you will notice that FT’s media release archive (HERE)  only extends back to early 2009. You’ll fare little better if you want any FT annual reports (HERE)  before 2006/2007.

Is it that FT has embraced digital secrecy? Is it that they have some software setting that automatically culls older materials? Is it that it is just an oversight that will be rectified now that it has been drawn to their attention?

After a helpful PR person send me a copy of the original media release (HERE), I asked why it was that they just didn’t leave media releases on their website. After all, it would save them wasting time handing inquiries from people looking for missing media releases. So far, there’s been no response.

How do other government agencies stack up?

Is it an approach unique to FT? Or is it common to other agencies and Government Business Enterprises (GBE’s) in particular?

TOTE Tasmania have annual reports on their website going back to 2002/2003 (HERE)  and media releases (HERE) to 2002. 

What about Hydro Tasmania? They have annual reports (HERE)  and media releases (HERE)  going back to 2004. 

How about the TT-Line Company? They have media releases (HERE)  going back to 2007. Perhaps there is some solace for FT as, compared to their tally of three annual reports, TT-Line only have their last two online.

Unfortunately, the Archives Office of Tasmania’s “State Records Guideline No. 15: Recordkeeping Strategies for Websites and Web pages” HERE  doesn’t really offer much guidance to government agencies on appropriate standards of information provision for the public.

Perhaps they should revise their guideline and set minimum standards for ensuring ready access to government agency information, especially since the recent reforms to the Freedom of Information Act place a greater emphasis on information being “pushed” out to the public via websites wherever possible.

In the meantime, perhaps Bob Gordon could go have a rummage around FT, find the “battered brief case”, unlock it and consign it “to history” ... again.

Picture: Ken Jeffreys, left

Dave’s view: HERE