Uncategorised 30th June 2016

Election 2016 and the OGP: the major parties speak, but is the Coalition listening?

by Peter Timmins

Labor and the Coalition have responded to Transparency International Australia on its Open Letter to Political Parties and candidates contesting the 2016 Federal Election.

The Greens and NXT did not send a response, but in those links are on the public record to some extent regarding the issues raised by TIA.

TIA rates Labor’s response as “solid without being particularly ambitious, although they do commit to political financing reform. Bill Shorten went further than their response on Wednesday 29th June by committing to re-opening the Senate Committee into a federal anti-corruption agency.”

The political financing commitment and a commitment to look into establishing an anti-corruption body were positions adopted in the ALP National Platform in  2014.

The Coalition’s response is described overall as “disappointing, contains no substantive commitments and rejects the notion or need for a federal anti-corruption agency.”

Open Government Partnership

The Network had alerted the major parties of our concern about aspects of the consultation over the national action plan, the scope for up to four months extra time available to improve on the effort to date, and the importance of establishing an interim arrangement that would bring government and non government together in the true spirit of partnership, something lacking in the process to date.

Labor responded to the TIA letter suggesting a fresh look at the issue if elected on Saturday, and without much more, completion of a national action plan “as soon as practicable.”

The response from the Coalition is of greater concern. In part:

that the Turnbull Government has “engaged extensively with relevant stakeholders” and “Australia’s OGP action plan is now expected to be launched in July this year. This has been communicated to the international headquarters of the OGP….. The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet will continue to work on the plan during caretaker with the intention of presenting it to the Government following the election.”

To correct the record:

  • The engagement with stakeholders was not extensive. Four two hour awareness sessions were held in December, one each in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra. Public contributions were invited to a government website. Government indicated throughout the process a preference to discuss how to improve public service delivery and the use of public resources, not issues concerning public integrity, access to information and citizen participation. Despite this over 200 suggestions were made, many raising such issues.
  • One government organised gathering was held in Canberra on 10 April to discuss to discuss priorities and attempt to distill public contributions with those who submitted proposals and were able to attend. No minister participated. Few senior public servants were present, most only for part of the time.
  • There was no discussion at that gathering of parts of the published draft, contentious in some respects, that outlined the background to Australia’s membership and the current state of play, or the vision embraced in committing to OGP principles and goals; consideration of most of the 200 plus submissions from the public was limited; no detail was provided or discussion encouraged of commitments put forward by government agencies; and there has been no feedback on commitment proposals developed by some participants on the day.
  • Those outside government interested in and supportive of Australian involvement in the OGP and the underlying issue of improving democratic practices have heard nothing about the content of the plan since; no dialogue with the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet has taken place during the eight weeks of the election campaign.
  • The notification to the OGP on 2 June about delay beyond the due date made no mention of the launch of the plan in July. It states: “After the outcome of the federal election is confirmed the Government will advise the Open Government Partnership  Support Unit of any updated timeframes.”
  • Any plan presented “to the Government following the election” based on the limited public engagement to date and nothing more, will hardly fit the model that the OGP advocates, a plan co-created in partnership by government, civil society and other stakeholders.

Whoever takes office after 2 July should be open to refreshing the discussion of possible commitments and putting in place an interim arrangement that reflects the unremarkable view that ‘partnership’ requires a lot more joint consideration and decision making than we have seen so far.

Members of the Network Steering Committee are scheduled to meet officials of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet in Canberra on Wednesday 6 July.