I find it ridiculous in the age of radical transparency being brought forth by the ubiquity of online information that data paid for and owned by citizens is kept from citizens by out of touch governments. I believe that taxpayer funded data must be freely available to the public. A good example is the information gathered by local governments during their food hygiene inspections of restaurants.
We the ratepayers pay for this work to be undertaken to ensure food business prepare and serve food safely and hygienically. We want to know the results of the inspections and prosecutions so we can make safe informed choices about where to eat. Regardless of who paid for the information or who legally owns it, it is in the public interest for this information to be made available. Despite this obvious logic, governments in Victoria refuse to publish this information.
In WA the former Labor state government and in NSW the current Labor state government chose to end the culture of secrecy and embrace transparency to publish this information. In Victoria the same Labor party led state government thinks it is not in the public interest to do so. This is scandalous and a fundamental dereliction of duty. Obviously, the Labor dominated City of Yarra local government does not publish this information.
I’m about to conduct an experiment in information liberation. I’m going to make a Freedom of Information request to the City of Yarra council to release information about restaurant inspections. I plan to publish this information here on Fitzroyalty. Naming and shaming businesses that violate food hygiene standards is in the public interest.
Here’s how I expect it to happen:
- I will make the FOI request to City of Yarra requesting documents listing the cafes and restaurants in Fitzroy that have received food hygiene inspections and the results of those inspections.
- The council will most likely reject the request on the grounds that the requested documents are “internal working documents” or “law enforcement documents”.
- I will appeal.
- My appeal will be rejected.
- I will make a complaint to the Victorian Ombudsman.
- The Ombudsman will consider the public interest of the case. In a similar case in Adelaide, the Ombudsman appears close to ruling in favour of forcing the release of this information.
In South Australia, Independent MP Kris Hanna has been fighting to make this information available to the public. In a poll run on the Adelaide Now website, 1103 out of 1268 (as at 12 May 2009) or 86% of people who participated in the poll agreed that infringing restaurants should be named and shamed.
Yarra could gracefully capitulate and recognise that the public interest should prevail, but I can’t see that happening. It will have to be achieved by force. The fact that we, the ratepayers of Yarra, have paid for this work to be done and for this information to be gathered and stored, yet to be denied access to it, is unethical and unacceptable.
What would you like to know about the quality of food service in Fitzroy and throughout Yarra? Have you made a complaint to council about a restaurant only to see no follow up, with the council taking no obvious action? Have you had enough of council acting as an apology group for greedy and irresponsible business owners? I’m going to do my best to get you the truth.