News 30th May 2016

Australia’s OGP ambition shouldn’t be sidelined during election campaign

by Peter Timmins

There has been no response to date to the message to the Prime Minister from Network Chair Dr David Solomon urging the government to take extra time beyond the 1 July target date to formulate and submit a national action plan.

And no announcement or communication from the government since early April regarding possible commitments to be included in the plan.

The caretaker convention arrangements impose limits on what can be done during the campaign.

However a different government elected on 2 July should have the opportunity to put its own stamp on the plan.

And a re-elected Turnbull government should take another look at where things stand because of the wide gulf between thinking inside and outside government about possibilities, and the absence to date of a formal process that brings government and civil society together to negotiate and agree on priorities.

When the government called a halt to engagement in early April:

Two hundred and ten suggestions from outside government had been submitted during a public consultation from which eighteen were selected in a somewhat arbitrary fashion at a government initiated workshop in Canberra on 10 April. They were transformed into fourteen drafts that cover:

  • Open data – infrastructure, better open data for the public
  • Public integrity – contract transparency, anti-corruption, open policy and consultation, whistleblower protection, parliamentary conduct
  • Innovation – fostering innovation, opening procurement processes
  • Fiscal transparency– EITI, beneficial ownership transparency
  • Access to Information – FOI and role of OAIC
  • Public Participation – new ways to engage
  • Ongoing engagement –   joint government-civil society management of the process.

Government agencies meantime adopted a narrower focus suggesting the following initiatives, none of which have been the subject of any elaboration or dialogue with those outside government during the OGP plan process:

  • Centralised Annual Report discovery portal
  • Create a Digital Marketplace
  • Create, manage and preserve information digitally
  • Enable and encourage more data-driven digital report publishing
  • Future-proofing open data infrastructure
  • redevelopment
  • ICT Project dashboard
  • Redesign the open data request process
  • Scoping a public consultation platform
  • Scoping an e-Tabling system
  • Transforming high volume services.

Minister for Justice Keenan in London at the recent Anti-Corruption Summit committed the government to linking commitments made there with its OGP plan, a welcome grander idea than those contemplated by public servants. (Communique para 31)

On another ‘big picture’ issue the government has been silent on following the lead of other OGP members in linking Sustainable Development Goals with the plan.

Whoever wins the election on 2 July should renew efforts with civil society – hence the need for a formal process – to develop a plan setting out commitments that “promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption and harness new technologies to strengthen governance,”  the goals the OGP seeks to advance.

Prime Minister Turnbull in November told the Co-chairs of the international OGP Steering Committee these goals “directly align with Australia’s long and proud tradition of open and transparent government.”

On the other side of the election tussle, then Labor Attorney General Mark Dreyfus in May 2013 said “Australia shares the values of the Open Government Partnership.”

With five weeks to go until the election the OGP and related issues concerning transparency, accountability, open government and citizen participation should surely get a mention.

The Network stands ready to play a role in partnering with government after the election to develop an ambitious plan Australia can submit slightly late to the OGP .

But a plan that can go forward with pride, and shared government and civil society ownership.