Uncategorised 11th February 2018

Hope and disappointment: Progress on Implementation of Australia’s National Action Plan

by Peter Timmins

A survey of members of the network reveals disappointment with the limited progress made on some commitments and the failure of most lead agencies to engage with civil society in a way that reflects the true spirit of partnership.
What follows is an assessment of progress on the 15 commitments in the National Action Plan adopted by the Australian Government in December 2015.

Each commitment is briefly stated together with a link to the Dashboard report currently on the Prime Minister and Cabinet website, followed by our perspective on progress and a rating of each lead agency’s engagement with civil society over the last 14 months. This rating  is against the standard set out in guidance issued by Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (in full at the end of this post), best summarised as
“Agencies should approach implementation in the spirit of partnership with Civil Society.”

1.1 Whisteblower protection.Treasury
“Australia will ensure appropriate protections are in place for people who report corruption, fraud, tax evasion or avoidance, and misconduct within the corporate sector….”
Government Dashboard
Network Scorecard: Some progress although likely to roll over into NAP 2 for completion. Highly successful Parliamentary inquiry held, and expert advisory panel established but the Treasury Laws Amendment (Enhancing Whistleblower Protections) Bill 2017 was rushed (now referred to the Senate Economics Legislation Committee for inquiry and report by 16 March 2018)  and there has been no follow-through yet on key commitments and inquiry recommendations. Network member Professor AJ Brown has written this commentary on the bill on The Conversation.

Score for approach to implementation: 2/5.

1.2 Beneficial ownership.Treasury
“Australia will improve transparency of information on beneficial ownership and control of companies available to relevant authorities….”
Government Dashboard
Network Scorecard
Public silence since early last year. No feedback on submissions that were kept confidential for many months. Although we understand some stakeholders have had briefings there has been no  public indication of what is currently under consideration. While not reported on in the context of this commitment, the Government has announced a reform package to crack down on illegal phoenixing activity. The package includes the introduction of a Director Identification Number (DIN) that will identify directors with a unique number that enables regulators to map the relationships between individuals and entities and individuals and others.

Score for approach to implementation: 2/5

1.3 Extractive industries transparency. Industry
“Australia will enhance disclosure of company payments and government revenues from the oil, gas and mining sectors…”
Government Dashboard
Network Scorecard
Slow unsatisfactory progress .Members of the multi-stakeholder Forum have struggled at times to access information. Few signs of engagement with those outside the inner circle.
Score for approach to implementation:1/5

1.4 Combating corporate crime. AGD
“Australia will strengthen its ability to prevent, detect and respond to corporate crime, particularly bribery of foreign public officials, money laundering, and terrorism financing….”
Government Dashboard
Network Scorecard
Good progress. Anti-Money laundering reforms passed and bribery reforms before the Senate. Positive engagement.
Score for approach to implementation 4/5

2.1 High-Value datasets and data driven innovation.
“Australia will continue to make more public data openly available and support its use to launch commercial and non-profit ventures, conduct research, make data-driven decisions, and solve complex problems…..”
Government Dashboard
Network Scorecard
Limited progress. Appear to be lagging internationally. Many of the cited initiatives predate the OGP-NAP in any event.
Consultation sporadic and superficial. Level of engagement on datasets disappointing and statistics difficult to obtain.Government yet to respond to the work of the Productivity Commission.
Score for approach to implementation: 2/5

2.2 Public trust-data sharing. PMC
“Australia will build public trust around data sharing and release….”
Government Dashboard
Network Scorecard
Some initiatives underway but trust and public confidence appear to be trending down regardless. Limited engagement with stakeholders and the public generally.
Score for approach to implementation: 1/5

2.3 Digital Transformation. DTA
“Australia will continue to invest in digital technologies to make government services simpler, faster and cheaper, making it easier for the public to work and interact with government….”
Government Dashboard
Network Scorecard
Some progress. The commitment is narrow when compared to the government agenda outlined  elsewhere in DTA publications. While that agenda speaks of the importance of a ‘citizen-centric’ approach, engagement on the commitment has been poor. Senate Finance and Public Administration References Committee currently inquiring into digital delivery of government services but  this is not mentioned in government reporting on the commitment or in the DTA submission to the committee.
Score for approach to implementation 2/5.

3.1 Information management and access 21st century. AGD

“Australia will ensure our information access laws, policies and practices are modern and appropriate for the digital information age…..”
Government Dashboard
Network Scorecard
After 13 months and despite AGD claims of wide consultation, the shape and scope of what government has under consideration is unknown. Information provided to a select group at a ‘policy jam’ in August has not been released publicly. No reporting on any developments since that time. Underfunding and under-resourcing of FOI and information policy functions of Office of Australian Information Commissioner continues.
Score for approach to implementation 2/5

3.2 Understand use of FOI. NSWIPC
“Australia will better measure and improve our understanding of the public’s use of rights under freedom of information laws….”
Government Dashboard
Network Scorecard
Overall positive, with publication of the results now complete and scope identified for more useful statistics to facilitate transparency and research. While a topic for ‘experts’ good attempt at engagement.
Score for approach to implementation 4/5

3.3 Discoverability and accessibility public data. PMC/Finance/Archives.
“Australia will make it easier for the public to find, access and use government data and information…..”
Government Dashboard
Network Scorecard
Good progress. Notably, Data61 moving ahead to make both Federal and State open data portals more searchable and usable, and enabling greater collaborative activity.
Score for approach to implementation 4/5

See also government reports on these subsets
Corporate and administrative reporting
Archived records
Environmental information

4.1 Confidence in electoral system, Finance.
“To enhance integrity and confidence in Australia’s electoral system…….”
Government Dashboard
Network Scorecard
Limited reforms foreshadowed in the commitment. Focus has been on response to controversy over campaign donations by foreign sources. Little progress on more substantive concerns.
Score for approach to implementation 2/5

4.2 National integrity framework. AGD.
“Australia will strengthen its ability to prevent, detect and respond to corruption in the public sector…..”
Government Dashboard
Network Scorecard
Poor effort at connecting the commitment with actions of parliamentary committees (Parliamentary Joint Committee on ACLEI’s report into the jurisdiction of ACLEI & Senate Select Committee on a National Integrity Commission). No response to concerns about ACLEI coverage of major risks in procurement leaving this issue to be addressed in Australia’s second National Action Plan.Limited engagement with stakeholders.
Score for approach to implementation 2/5

4.3 Open contracting. Finance.
“Australia will review compliance with the Open Contracting Data Standard and continue to support the Open Contracting Global Principles….”
Government Dashboard
Network Scorecard
Disappointing. No engagement on approach to implementation prior to engaging a law firm to do the leg work and prepare a report primarily on Austender. Submissions not published and no feedback for many months. No government representation at Open Contracting Global Summit in Amsterdam in December. No reference to “open contracting” in the amended version of the Commonwealth Procurement Rules (CPRs) which came into operation on 1 January 2018.
Score for approach to implementation 1/5

5.1 Delivery of National Action Plan PMC

“Australia will ensure that our Open Government National Action Plan is a platform for ongoing dialogue, collaboration and open government reform….”
Government Dashboard
Network Scorecard
A mechanism for gov-CSO dialogue, the Open Government Forum was established in 2017. Leadership lacking at some stages in the management of the OGP process. Some positives and lessons to be learned in further development of the Forum and in engaging with civil society on the second national action plan.
Score for approach to implementation 3.5/5

5.2 Public participation, Industry
“Australia will work towards improving public participation and engagement to enhance policy and service delivery outcomes for Australians….”
Government Dashboard
Network Scorecard
Good progress with a serious attempt to identify weaknesses across the APS in engagement and collaboration and the reasons behind them. An open approach at all stages including publication of research findings. Given the ‘whole of government’ implications, the work being undertaken needs endorsement and support from the highest level, something we are yet to see.
Score for approach to implementation 4/5

Additional initiative
 While not included as a commitment, the National Action Plan refers to the link between Australia’s open government plans and the Sustainable Development Goals . The plan states the government’s intention to endorse the Joint Declaration on Open Government for the Implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development , explaining the declaration “commits us to transparency, openness and accountability in our domestic and international implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It also commits us to look for opportunities in future National Action Plans to progress implementation of the SDGs.”

Network Scorecard: There has been no public statement about endorsement of the Joint Declaration. There is no mention of the Open Government Partnership in any of the published SDG material on the DFAT website, or in any speeches or statements by the Minister for Foreign Affairs or other government representatives such as the Ambassador to the United Nations.

Guidance on approach to implementation

In May 2017, at the initiative of civil society members, the Interim Working Group established by the Government in August 2016 to help develop Australia’s first National Action Plan for the Open Government Partnership, agreed the following guidance for agencies in implementing OGP commitments.The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet circulated the guidance to other agencies.The December 2017 minutes of the Forum record that PMC has asked agencies to report on how they are meeting the guidelines.


The lead agency (or agencies) is responsible for initiating and managing action to implement each commitment.

Every effort should be made to meet the milestones set out in the plan.

Agencies should approach implementation in the spirit of partnership with Civil Society.

This will generally require more than routine or one off consultation with stakeholders.

The varied nature of the commitments mitigates against a one size fits all plan. Each lead agency is encouraged to adopt an open, inclusive and collaborative approach to implement the commitment:

Highlight the commitment on the agency website and in other communications.

Explain publicly the commitment and why it is important, particularly how it benefits the public.

Review the detail of the commitment with stakeholders and experts.

Publish the commitment, milestones and steps to implement the commitment, including opportunities for the public, stakeholders, and experts to be involved.

Unless they are requested to be withheld by the individuals or organisations involved, publish submissions and names of attendees at public consultations by default.

Use tools like social media to raise awareness and other techniques such as open invitation meetings to facilitate input.

Give close consideration to matters raised during public engagement and provide feedback wherever practicable.

Report regularly and publicly on the status of the commitment, including about challenges and setbacks.

Agencies should bring to the attention of PM&C and the Interim Working Group issues that arise that may warrant significant reconsideration of the published terms of the commitment.