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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Australia shuns good company at OGP meeting in Brazil

You are known by the company you keep. For this reason Australia sensibly looks for a seat at the right international tables. But for some reason we weren't in Brazilia yesterday in any official capacity at least, when over 1,000 representatives from 55 member governments  and 200 civil society organisations got together for the first annual high-level meeting of the Open Government Partnership (OGP), an initiative launched in September 2011 by President Obama and Brazilian President Rousseff. 

The meeting was chaired by President Rousseff and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who spoke of the opportunity the OGP provided to
"set a new global standard for good governance and to strengthen a global ethos of transparency and accountability... we intend to do all we can to help make the Open Government Partnership a leader in ensuring that the 21st century is an era of openness, transparency, accountability, freedom, democracy, and results for people everywhere."
47 countries have joined the partnership in the last eight months. Apart from President Rousseff and Secretary Clinton, President Kikwete of Tanzania, Prime Minister Gilauri of Georgia, UK Cabinet Minister Frances Maude, and dozens of senior government leaders from around the world thought it important enough to attend the Brazil meeting. Libya was represented. The UK and US are co-chairs for the next 12 months.

The Australian government talks the talk about the importance of open government but either has difficulties with the partnership concept not shared by those who have joined, or other more pressing priorities. Our reasons for not signing up are so far unexplained, although in response to my report that the word recently in Washington was we would not be joining, a spokesperson was quoted by itnews saying we continue to consider and consult- eight months on for heavens sake!

Australian ministers who should have an interest including Attorney General Roxon (on Q&A and elsewhere) and Foreign Minister Carr (on his first visit to Europe) obviously had other pressing matters requiring their attention, but Trade Minister Emerson has been in Latin America for the past week for other reasons, and in Brazilia days ago, but apparently with no time for this sort of stuff, and had moved on to Colombia by the time the meeting began.

More than a pity that we sit out international action on open government in the 21st century while the following participating countries give it a high priority and the cause a shot in the arm by being seen in this sort of good company. Australia and NZ could give the notably light Asia -Pacific region representation a lift:
(* denotes Steering Committee member):

Brazil* Colombia Italy Peru
Indonesia* Costa Rica Jordan Romania
Mexico* Croatia Kenya Russia
Norway* Czech Republic Latvia Serbia
Philippines* Denmark Liberia Slovak Republic
South Africa* Dominican Republic Lithuania South Korea
United Kingdom* El Salvador Macedonia Spain
United States* Estonia Malta Sweden
Albania Georgia Moldova Tanzania
Armenia Ghana Mongolia Trinidad and Tobago
Azerbaijan Greece Montenegro Turkey
Bulgaria Guatemala Netherlands Ukraine
Canada Honduras Panama Uruguay
Chile Israel Paraguay


  1. Anonymous11:59 am

    "Australia and NZ could give the notably light Asia -Pacific region representation a lift"

    They would, and they have a lot to offer other jurisdictions. But they might also have to admit that they don't have a monopoly on good ideas when it comes to openness and FOI, and that there are things they could learn from other jurisdictions. Perhaps also, paying the annual 'contribution' of US$50,000 sticks in the craw of governments suffering from a 'not invented here' syndrome, or not wanting to stir up the plebs who might demand better FOI/consultation/engagement/open data?

  2. Thanks for the comment.We are kidding ourselves if we think we have nothing to learn in this area, or that our level of citizen engagement is anything to be proud of. Or that we can leave the international 'heavy lifting" in promoting open government to others.