Senate Committee probes on OGP action plan
The Senate Select Committee on a National Integrity Commission hearing on 5 July on the adequacy of the Australian government’s framework for addressing corruption and misconduct (Commitment 4.2 in Australia’s OGP National Action Plan) included the following Q&A about the Open Government Partnership:
ABLETT, Ms Maia, Acting Assistant Secretary, Legal Policy Branch, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
LYNCH, Ms Philippa, First Assistant Secretary, Government Division, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
STORY, Mr William, Assistant Secretary, Strategic Coordination Unit, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
CHAIR: I welcome representatives of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Thank you for talking with us today. The committee has not received a submission from the department. I invite you to make an opening statement and we will move to questions.
Ms Lynch : We do not have an opening statement. We note the Attorney-General’s Department’s submission to the inquiry, but we have no further opening statement to make.
CHAIR: We are interested in the Open Government Partnership and we understand the Attorney-General’s Department’s lead role in relation to the integrity framework elements of that. But we were wondering if you could assist us with an update on the planning for the review of ACLEI, the AFP’s fraud and anticorruption centre and where that fits within the broader Open Government Partnership plan.
Mr Story : PM&C coordinates Australia’s involvement in the Open Government Partnership, and line agencies are responsible for particular commitments. So PM&C’s role is both to coordinate overall delivery and also to be responsible for a number of particular commitments relating to data and a multistakeholder forum—5.2. The Attorney-General’s Department is responsible for commitment 4.2, which relates to the national integrity framework. Now, we certainly coordinate reporting from all departments about the implementation of commitments. I would suggest that questions about the progress of that commitment be referred to the department, which would be best placed to answer the detail of your questions.
CHAIR: Rather than detail, at this stage what we are interested in is what sort of reporting we might anticipate by what type of time frame and how that fits with the broader Open Government Partnership.
Mr Story : Just to clarify, do you mean reporting on overall delivery of each of the commitments?
Mr Story : There are two things I can address. The first is that we have coordinated reporting on each of the commitments, which we have published and provided to the interim working group which was established by the government to help develop the National Action Plan. I can provide that reporting to you. The other point I can indicate, which will become more useful, is that we are developing a website, an initial version of which we expect to be released for public comment in coming weeks. That will include a dashboard which will have the most up-to-date and engaging information on the delivery of the 15 commitments. The other point that is worth noting in this context is that the government is establishing a new forum to replace the interim working group. This is pursuant to commitment 5.2. This forum, which will be called the Open Government Forum will have a role in doing three things. The first, though, which is relevant to your question, is driving delivery of commitments. We would expect to consult that forum, when it is established, about our reporting and how we can improve that.
CHAIR: How long before this new group that will look at driving the delivery of commitments will be established?
Mr Story : A selection panel is currently finalising recommendations on appointments to the Open Government Forum. Those recommendations would, I expect, be finalised in a matter of days and will then be transmitted to government. Government will then make a decision. Of course, the timing is a matter for government, but I would anticipate that it will be relatively quick. We were, in fact, hoping to have the first meeting of the forum on 28 July.
CHAIR: That is useful. We are due to report in mid-August, but are conscious that there are a range of other elements of the matters that we are addressing that are afoot, so to speak. Any consideration about jurisdiction of ACLEI and/or the AFP Fraud and Anti-Corruption centre is obviously an element of that picture. Transparency International is doing essentially an audit of the integrity framework themselves, although that reporting process probably operates over around two years. But it is helpful to have that date in particular.
Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE: Staying on the subject of the Open Government Partnership, Mr Story you mentioned the new forum that is replacing the interim working group and that a selection panel has been finalising recommendations for appointments to that working group—is that right?
Mr Story : Yes.
Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE: How were the positions on this working group advertised?
Mr Story : The department made a public call for nominations which we put out via LinkedIn, Twitter and our website as well as using our mailing list and our networks of stakeholders to spread the message. Applications were open from 8 to 22 June. If you like, I can provide more information about the background to the way the forum has been set up and to the consultations about its establishment.
Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE: That would be helpful, thank you.
Mr Story : The interim working group was a body of six government representatives, largely deputy secretary level representatives of key agencies involved in Open Government commitments and six civil society representatives, which was appointed in August 2016. Its primary role is to help develop the plan which was then released by the government in December 2016. The interim working group remained in place and led development of the multistakeholder forum, which has been called the Open Government forum.
The interim working group led public consultations in April and May about the role and purpose, the structure of the method of appointment of that forum. Those consultations included a Twitter Q and A, a public workshop in Melbourne and an open call for submissions. The interim working group then made a series of recommendations to government about what the forum should do, how it should work and how it should be established. Those recommendations are all available on the department’s website. The government considered and accepted those recommendations and, consequent to that and consistent with the recommendations, we made a call for public nominations, as I indicated, from 8 to 22 June.
Again, consistent with the recommendations of the interim working group, a selection panel was established to consider appointments. That panel comprises Stephen Kennedy, who is the deputy secretary in my department and was co-chair of the interim working group; Fiona McLeod SC, who is the chair of the Law Council of Australia and was co-chair of the interim working group; and Murray Kellam AO, former Tasmanian Integrity Commissioner and judge of the Victorian Supreme Court, among other appointments. That panel is finalising its recommendations now and, once finalised, it will transmit those to government which will then make a decision.
Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE: Will the new forum have a similar composition to the working group with six departmental government reps and then six civil society reps?
Mr Story : The interim working group agreed and the government accepted the recommendation that the new body should, again, be a single forum which would likely have, I think the words were,’ up to eight’ representatives on each side. The slight expansion will enable each agency that has lead responsibility for an Open Government Partnership commitment to be represented on the forum and it will, of course, and enable a broader representation from civil society.
Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE: I am not sure whether you will be answer this because the selection process is still ongoing: what sorts of representatives from civil society have put their hands up to be part of this group?
Mr Story : The good thing about the Open Government Partnership is that it is consistent with the way we do things. All the nominations are public. We published the names and applications of all applicants on 23 June. That is available on our website. It is fair to say that there is a broad selection of civil society, legal interest groups, those interested in open data, those with an interest in anticorruption, integrity measures and accountability, and some expertise in international matters as well.
Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE: The purpose of this group is to report on Australia’s delivery of the goals contained within the Open Government Partnership?
Mr Story : Yes. In very broad terms, it is threefold. The first object is to drive delivery of the current plan to hold government to account in delivering what we have committed to do. The second is to help develop the next national action plan, which will run from mid-2018 to mid-2020. The third is to help raise awareness of open government more generally. Of course, it will have a number of functions. For example, there will be an interim self-assessment process. We will work very closely with the forum in that respect. We want to get the forum’s views on the website and how we publicly report. I expect there will be a range. I think we will have a very busy program of work and that is what we want to lay out before the forum when it first meets.
Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE: How often do you think the forum will meet?
Mr Story : The interim working group recommended that it meet every two months. Again, these recommendations are all public. We would be happy to provide a copy to the secretariat. The interim working group indicated that the forum should be empowered to decide its own ways of working. Again, that will be a matter for the forum’s first meeting.
CHAIR: One of the areas in which this committee has received submissions is around the lack of public awareness of our multiagency approach to integrity, corruption and maladministration. Is that one of the areas where the forum might pay attention to how those matters might be addressed?
Mr Story : The working group has recommended that the forum have a role in increasing awareness of open government. The forum, when it first meets, will need to consider how it does that. I only make the general comment, which may be most helpful, that I would expect that its work in that respect will be focused on both current commitments and broader aspirations around opportunities for more open government.