Points of View 29th November 2016

Transparency International Australia:Opportunities to improve the Plan

by Peter Timmins

on Linked In

It is important for all stakeholders to understand that the first Australian Open Government Partnership (OGP) National Action Plan (NAP) is not an end in itself. It is the very first step in an ongoing process towards open government in Australia. Open Government will take time and have many iterations along its lengthy journey.

In the period since the 2016 Federal Election, Government, as represented by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, has demonstrated a strong sense of collaboration and co-creation and have worked with members of civil society in very good faith to develop the first draft NAP. Of course it is not a perfect process, such processes rarely are. However, there is a strong element of partnership and maturity in the process as it stands now.

After a period of public consultation, the revised draft NAP will shortly return to Cabinet for sign-off. Contributions from civil society and the public offer a number of refinements and some suggestions for deepening commitments and adding new commitments directly in line with national and international priorities. TI Australia continues to support the process and the vast bulk of the draft NAP and we endorse many of the suggestions raised by our civil society partners. We strongly urge Cabinet to acknowledge and include many of the proposals from the consultation process and ensure a strong NAP is delivered to OGP in time for the OGP Summit in Paris in early December 2016.

It’s important to highlight the key areas where TI Australia sees opportunities to improve the draft NAP so that it delivers an even stronger foundation upon which we can all build in the years to come. International experience suggests that the first NAP is always the hardest. Australia is in a strong position so early in its OGP journey to develop ever stronger NAPs with SMART milestones (as suggested by the OGP Support Unit) to deliver reforms that citizens notice and acknowledge. Suggestions for improvements include:

  • The scope of the NAP is broad, with a fourteen commitments and numerous milestones. Whilst a broad scope is good, covering many areas of government interaction with society that require attention, the volume of milestones may prove troublesome in the implementation phase over the coming two years. There is an opportunity to consolidate milestones and introduce stronger and more ambitious language into them.
  • Section 2: Efforts to Date feels too long. The NAP needs to squarely focus on future reforms, not repeat existing initiatives. The draft is unfortunately consistent with the language used in Australia’s UK Anti-Corruption Summit Commitments in May 2016. We recommend the language of the NAP be forward-looking as much as possible. For example, in Commitment 1.1 the NAP states: “We will improve whistle-blower protections for people who disclose information about tax misconduct to the Australian Taxation Office. We will also consult on other reform options…” An alternative wording may be “We will institute worlds-best-practice whistleblower protections for people who disclose information about corporate and tax misconduct to the ATO, ASIC and other Australian corporate regulators. We will also implement other reform options…” The focus of NAP commitments needs to be on implementing change at the highest possible standard. The Government can and should take advantage of the willingness of TI Australia and other organisations to collaborate on reforms that will generate tangible and measurable change for Australian society.
  • The draft NAP is missing the strength of vision and ambition required to deliver open government that will benefit all Australians. We would recommend less use of consultation (although consultation is an important step in the process) and a greater focus on implementation of commitments. This will send the strongest possible signal to Australians that open government is a Government priority. We note and support the OGP Support Unit’s comments that in many cases it is difficult to identify where implementation of Commitment reforms identified via consultation will actually occur. For example, Commitment 1.2 Beneficial Ownership stops well short of implementation with milestones limited to recommendations to government. As other NAP submissions have noted, this is inadequate and lacks any sense of vision or ambition. We therefore encourage a full review of the language throughout the draft NAP to change the tenor of the document to one clearly demonstrating the political will to implement reform.
  • Commitment 5.1 Delivery of Australia’s OGP NAP: we recommend Government, at the earliest possible time, consults with civil society to identify existing tools and mechanisms whereby simple, effective, and real-time monitoring of Australia’s progress against commitments can occur. In the spirit of partnership and co-creation, civil society will welcome the opportunity to support monitoring for the benefit of the wider public and to enable effective reporting into OGP on progress.
  • Concerning Australia’s Leadership Internationally, TI Australia fully supports the submission from the Development Policy Centre on improving aid transparency. It is vital for Australia’s role as a development partner in the Indo-Pacific region (in particular) to ‘walk the talk’ and to remain committed to supporting good governance in the region. It is also critical for Australia to be seen as a leader in fulfilling its obligations under the Sustainable Development Goals. OGP provides a unique platform in which to demonstrate commitment, ambition and accountability to the SDGs within an existing framework that is readily accessible in the public domain.
  • OGP at the Sub-National level: several references are made in commitments and milestones to engaging State and Local government in the OGP process. To date, little such engagement has taken place. International experience indicates that it is at the sub-national level where some of the most significant gains can be made in open government, transparency and accountability to citizens. This is, of course, due to the role of sub-national governments and agencies in service delivery. We therefore recommend that early in 2017 an OGP sub-national taskforce is established in Australia to identify State & Local government partners and components of the NAP where their engagement can add immediate value in implementation. Further, we recommend that, in 2017, preparation for leadership at the sub-national level for the second OGP NAP commences to ensure all stakeholders are adequately prepared.

Transparency International Australia welcomes the Government’s commitment to OGP and the completion of this draft NAP. We look forward to this NAP being finalised and for implementation to begin in earnest.