Network supports findings of independent review, highlights absence of ministers from open government dialogue
These comments by the Steering Committee were submitted to the OGP Independent Review on 24 April.
“The Steering Committee welcomes publication of the mid term report .
Daniel Stewart has made a valuable contribution in tracing the development of the plan and the implementation of commitments to date.
Throughout we found him interested in civil society experience and readily accessible.
However, we are disappointed that the summary attached to his Report did not reflect the strength of that Report. Where his Report identifies opportunities for learning from the experience of the first National Action Plan, the summary reduces his findings to inconsequential observations.
We regard the report as a wake-up call to both government and civil society that this first effort at partnership in pursuit of open government reform leaves room for major improvement.
We agree with its findings that development of the plan was marked by limited public awareness of the OGP initiative and an overall low level of civil society participation with limited, commendable exceptions and that commitments for the most part are vague. They did not meet the standard set by the OGP i.e., they were not concrete, transformative or ambitious.
Government efforts to ensure effective civil society engagement were weak.
The report is comprehensive in detailing the development of the plan and implementation action to date. The commentary on each commitment is consistent with the Network assessment of the government approach to implementation of commitments, published in February 2018.
Matters raised in our comments on the government draft self assessment in September last year should be given prominence in the report.
There have been few signs of enthusiasm and support for the initiative from ministers, a significant factor in the low level of public awareness of the initiative.
The Prime Minister signed the notification that Australia intended to proceed with membership of the OGP in November 2015. No Media Release was issued at the time. The Prime Minister has not referred publicly to the OGP since, other than in a sentence about open data in a joint statement with NZ Prime Minister English in February 2017.
There has been no statement in Parliament or reference to the OGP in speeches by the Prime Minister or the Minister for Finance, the minister responsible for coordinating implementation of the National Action Plan.
Continuity has been a problem in advancing the open government cause. Stability helps establish trust and collaborative working relationships. The turnover of staff in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet responsible for managing the process and coordinating agency involvement has led to the loss of knowledge and drive. Since the initiative got underway seven different middle/ senior managers within PM&C were assigned prime responsibility for OGP issues, reporting to a deputy secretary of the department who has changed three times.
Civil society engagement
Attempts at public engagement at times were limited and rushed with deadlines that left little time for civil society input.
The ‘co-creation workshop’ in Canberra in April 2016 proved to be overly ambitious in its stated purpose of organising participants to co-create, draft and submit detailed commitments.
A number of lead agencies assigned to progress a commitment adopted a ‘business as usual ‘ approach to public engagement inviting the public and stakeholders to lodge a submission in response to a published report or discussion paper, but not engaging further. Long silences and little contact followed initial consultation.
“Guidance outlining the importance of ongoing engagement and collaboration with civil society was approved by the Interim Working Group in May 2017 and issued to agencies by Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. The guidance has not been followed.
Sustainable Development Goals
The government has not indicated that it has acted upon the stated intention in the national action plan to link the plan with the Sustainable Development Goals.
Plan page 62:
“The National Action Plan will support the achievement of the SDGs in Australia and globally, in particular Goal 16 on peaceful and inclusive societies, access to justice and effective institutions (which includes targets directly related to a range of commitments in this Plan, such as promoting the rule of law, substantially reducing corruption and bribery, and ensuring public access to information). Australia strongly advocated for this goal, which will be critical for the success of the entire 2030 Agenda. Australia will also endorse the Joint Declaration on Open Government for the Implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This 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. As a member of the Open Government Partnership, we also note our responsibility to work globally to fight corruption, empower citizens and enhance transparency and integrity. We will continue to work with other countries to help achieve these goals, including through our support for the effective implementation of the UN Convention against Corruption and the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative in Australia, our region and beyond. Australia will also continue to participate actively in forums such as the G20 Anti-Corruption Working Group and OECD Development Assistance Committee networks on governance, conflict and fragility.”
The summary should be re-written to better reflect the Report’s key recommendations and suggestions.
The report’s key recommendations and suggestions (page 100) for improvement will inform our approach to development of the second plan, now underway.
We will seek to ensure government partners similarly accept these lessons to be learned from the first attempt at partnership.
Best wishes as we move forward with the open government cause.”
Dr Ken Coghill