Information 2nd August 2018

Network raises concerns and suggests remedies in meeting with Minister Cormann

by Peter Timmins

At a meeting in Melbourne today with the minister responsible for OGP co-ordination, Special Minister of State and Minister for Finance Senator Cormann, a delegation led by Network Steering Committee Chair Dr Ken Coghill called for action to publicly demonstrate that the government is serious about open government reform.

Action along these lines could include

  • A statement in Parliament or speech (for example by the Prime Minister) that conveys this message.
  • A campaign to encourage discussion and debate about improving democratic practices and public
    participation, building on work to date by the Department of Industry Innovation and Science on Commitment 5.2.
  • Steps to ensure the commitments in the second national action plan are more specific in committing to
    particular substantive outcomes;
  • A regular opportunity for civil society members of the Open Government Forum to meet the Minister to discuss progress;
  • A lift in Australian international engagement on open government, for example ensuring ministerial attendance at the Asia Pacific Regional meeting in Seoul in November and at future OGP Global summits, the next in Canada in 2019. Australia should offer to host the regional meeting after Seoul and have as a medium term goal the Government Co-Chair position on the OGP just assumed by Canada with Argentina next in line. There is scope to link the OGP initiative with plans to implement the Sustainable Development Goals domestically and internationally and to provide encouragement for open government and OGP membership in the region.

Other points raised by the delegation

The Network and its members have supported the OGP initiative throughout, encouraged civil society and public participation, and provided support and input during the planning phases and implementation of commitments contained in the first plan.

In proceeding with OGP membership, the Prime Minister adopted the principles stated in the OGP Open Government Declaration. Australia along with 74 other OGP members is committed to fostering “a global culture of open government that empowers and delivers for citizens, and advances the ideals of open and participatory 21st century government.”

Network members and the wider civil society, want to see more open, transparent and engaged government.

The OGP is a useful vehicle, but only if the Government uses it as such.

Adoption of commitments based on the Open Government Declaration principles has the potential to enhance confidence in government.

Australia’s performance to date has received little attention in political circles and the media. However a gap, particularly a significant gap, between our words and deeds could be cited as another reason for declining trust and confidence in government and political leadership.

The opportunity has been missed so far for a whole of government embrace of the concept of open government with strong, visible support from ministers in public discussion about the OGP.

There is frustratingly limited public awareness of the OGP initiative and low level of public and civil society participation in the development and implementation of Australia’s planned reforms. There has been no attempt by government to tell the open government reform story.

Comments from the Independent reviewer Daniel Stewart about the first plan drew attention to gaps and weaknesses- for example, vague commitments, none of which are transformative, limited public awareness of the OGP initiative, absence from participation by groups representing indigenous, rural communities, disabled, elderly or otherwise politically or economically marginalised people.

The ‘business as usual’ approach by lead agencies to engagement rather than ongoing collaboration in the spirit of partnership is a concern.

Those who have participated in the consultations on commitments to date have not received encouragement, response or explanation about why many suggestions for improvement were not acted upon. On some commitments nothing has been heard for months. On one (3.1 Attorney General’s Department :Information access laws and practices fit for 21st century) there has been no engagement with anyone outside government for 12 months.

The Australian Government has played virtually no role in the international OGP movement.


A comment on the meeting from Dr Coghill will be available shortly.