Points of View 29th November 2016

Australian Press Council: OGP Plan must be credible, meaningful, effective

by Peter Timmins

Australian Press Council

MEDIA RELEASE | 29 November 2016
National Action Plan for open government must face up to growing problems
The Australian Press Council is calling on the Turnbull government to address seriously its obligations to the multilateral Open Government Partnership (OGP) and ensure that Australia takes all needed steps to promote openness, transparency and access to information.
A draft “National Action Plan” produced as part of Australia’s formal OGP commitments is likely to be considered by the federal cabinet next week. The Press Council, which is a member of a group working to ensure that the OGP process is meaningful and effective, is one of many organisations that believe the Draft Plan is heading in the right direction but does not go far enough.
In particular, the Press Council believes that the Plan’s summary of the current situation in Australia is not accurate, making a number of unbalanced statements about Australia’s record and international standing regarding access to information and transparency in government.
“Australia’s record in a number of areas, including overly broad anti-terrorism laws, overuse of secrecy and suppression orders, metadata retention and inadequate protection of whistleblowers, are reasons for grave concern,” said Press Council Chair Professor David Weisbrot. “I am very uncomfortable with any National Action Plan going to a multilateral body that may leave the impression that all is well here.
“Australia’s efforts and reputation for open government and free access to information have in fact deteriorated in recent years. The Plan notes, apparently with some satisfaction, that Australia in 2015 was ranked 13th in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, but fails to add that Australia’s ranking has fallen six positions since 2012. Australia ranks 25 in the Freedom House Press Freedom Index, well down on earlier years. We should aim to remain amongst the international leaders in this area, rather than congratulate ourselves on not being amongst the worst.”
The Australian Press Council has been kept informed of the outstanding work of the Steering Committee of the Australian Open Government Partnership Network, as well as the contributions of other civil society groups.
In its own formal submission on the draft National Action Plan, lodged on 18 November 2016, the Press Council applauded what appears to be a renewed commitment by the Australian government to a strong framework for open, transparent and accessible government. But the Press Council believes that any documents drafted by government as part of that effort should accurately reflect Australia’s current problematic record in this area.
Open government and strong freedom of information laws are essential for ensuring good policy-making and sound administrative decision-making, as well as for exposing and preventing corruption. These enable responsible journalism and are critical to investigative reporting and an informed citizenry.
For further information or to arrange interviews, contact Michael Rose, the Press Council’s Director of Research and Communications on 0451 978 276 or by email at michael.rose@presscouncil.org.au