Australia drafts our first National Action Plan for Open Government

This article is published by Rosie Williams under the CC by 4.0 licence.

Late last year, the Malcolm Turnbull signed Australia on to a multi-lateral agreement called the Open Government Partnership. The idea of this partnership is to encourage more open and democratic societies by requiring that participating countries ‘co-create’ National Action Plans with civil society which specify actions they will take to improve transparency, accountability & improve government services.

An excellent guide to open government and how it relates to the OGP process is here.

Australia’s intention to join the OGP was originally stated by the Labor government and then delayed by the Abbott government until Malcolm Turnbull took over Prime Ministership, signed the agreement and in doing so, launched Australia head-long into a national consultation during which Australia’s first National Action Plan for Open Government was drafted.

Unfortunately, Mr Turnbull forgot to tell the media that this national consultation was on or why. In fact there were probably less than 5 media mentions of the Open Government Partnership from the time the consultation was initiated last year and today. Having been closely following the Open Government Partnership process, and having been lucky enough to help draft the National Action Plan back on April 11, I thought I would provide a quick update as to where the process is up to.

open data table

The National Action Plan was drafted in Canberra on April 11 by about 45 people comprising agency staff (often senior bureaucrats), representatives from Australia’s transparency groups eg (Transparency International, Accountability Roundtable) and representatives from organisations that seek consultancies with government. During this event we were divided up into tables based on different (but overlapping) topics and went through all the suggestions that had been put to the Wiki which has been used as the mechanism for receiving input from the public. Our task was to identify the broad themes in the suggestions and whittle them down to end up with what have been termed ‘Commitments‘.

These so called Commitments were presented to Cabinet for funding approval in the lead up to the election and then government went into caretaker mode.  It is a measure of the lack of funding this consultation process has received that there is not even a single page anywhere listing all the Commitments that came out of the drafting event or even those the government agreed to put before Cabinet. To find out what was submitted (for approval by agencies) you have to download each large Word Doc.

To date there has been no word on which Commitments have been agreed to and which have not. An email from Luke Yeaman, First Assistant Secretary Industry, Infrastructure & Environment Division, from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet received today states that:

“Whilst the caretaker conventions have now been lifted, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet is awaiting advice from Government on the next steps for the OGP process.  While the Plan had been co-developed to a draft stage before the caretaker conventions commenced we do not consider that the consultation process has been completed and that the Plan is ready for final release and announcement.” (my emphasis).

The lack of media coverage of the Open Government Partnership (presumably due to the refusal of the Prime Minister and his Ministry to initiate media interest) has been a sore point for all those involved as we were all only too aware of that most people, including many agencies themselves had no idea this consultation was taking place.

To put the Australian government’s bid to join the OGP into perspective, here’s how the President of the United States introduces their National Action Plan. Now consider the fact that we have heard nothing whatsoever from our own leadership.

I am heartened by the comment from Luke Yeaman that the consultation process for the first National Action Plan is not complete as this indicates (in my mind) a willingness to engage in further consultation with the public. I think that people will have a much better grasp of what the NAP is actually for and be much more willing to put their voices behind various Commitments if the draft plan is released (in full) and people are given the opportunity to engage with it before it is signed into law.

It is apparent that the OGP team within the Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet are yet to receive their instructions from the Prime Minister on how to proceed with the OGP but it should not be too much longer now I would think, and we will know what the government has either already committed to or if they are providing a period to engage further with the public (as some including myself consider a requirement for Australia’s bid to be legitimate).

According to Mr Yeaman: “There is much to do and once we have received our advice from Government I would be happy to provide you with the full details of what happens next and how the program will be managed into the future.”

I look forward to further clarification.


Note:

If you would like to contact live participants who attended the live drafting of the National Action Plan in Canberra, the OGP wiki provides a download of email addresses from those who consented.

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