Points of View 29th November 2016

Accountability Roundtable: Vital Reforms needed in National Action Plan

by Peter Timmins


Open Govt Partnership at risk of failure: ART          29 Nov 2016

The Accountability Round Table today made a last ditch call on the Federal Government to commit to vital reform to Australia’s plan for the international Open Government Partnership.

Chair of ART, Tim Smith QC said ‘Prime Minister Turnbull is to be congratulated for resurrecting the National Action Plan 12 months ago after it ground to a halt for two years under the Abbott Government. But this delay has meant insufficient time for government and civil society to work through significant reforms.’

The final Plan must be submitted to the OGP before the end of year.

The draft Plan considered by the Working Group last week suggests that it is unlikely that the Plan will include meaningful reform of three key areas – political funding, corruption action and access to Government information. It will need to go to Cabinet in early December if the deadline is to be met.

‘It fails to commit to real change, instead promising yet more reviews and inaction.’ Mr Smith said.

•    The ‘framework of donations to parties and other political entities’ (one of the weakest regimes in the democratic world) will once again be investigated by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters rather a more arms-length body

•    The ‘multi-faceted, multi-agency approach to corruption’ will be ‘regularly reviewed’ despite its serious inadequacies.

•    The severe limitations imposed by our Attorney-General, Senator Brandis and his Department since 2014 on the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner’s FOI role and resources do not appear to have been addressed. This means the OAIC will be unable to discharge the roles proposed for it in the Plan.

Attorney General wrong for role

To date, the Plan has provided for the Attorney General’s Department to be the lead agency for implementing the anti-corruption and FOI commitments.

However, Senator Brandis, continues to defend his restrictions on the OAIC and intends no change for the next 2 years. His actions (and so Australia’s) reject a prime objective of the OGP – ‘promoting increased access to information and disclosure about government activities’.

For there to be confidence in the implementation of the first Plan, ART recommends that the lead agency for the anti-corruption commitments be PM&C and, for FOI, an independent statutory body such as the Australian Law Reform Commission.

‘The Government could still ensure that Australia makes a significant contribution to this important international initiative and perhaps regain the trust of the Australian people but needs to act now’, Mr Smith said.

For comment: Tim Smith 0459 088 121