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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Attorney General said let's join OGP but what happened next?

A document from the Attorney General's Department released today in response to a request made via Right to Know a month ago reveals the Attorney General directed the Department to write to the Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs last May proposing Australia join the Open Government Partnership. But whether the letter was sent, and what has happened since isn't apparent. 

The signs were very positive in May. It still makes sense, even as Canberra starts to grind to the end of year halt.

Hat tip to Attorney General's for the decision, but what wasn't clear about the application in the first place is a mystery. And a good first day for Right to Know.

The Freedom of Information request was for the latest document held that included an assessment of the arguments for and against the Australian Government applying for membership of the Open Government Partnership. 

The document released is a briefing note in May 2012 to the Attorney General supportive of a decision to join, but recommending that the Australian Information Commissioner be asked to consult other government departments to develop a whole of government position, including whether Australia should join, and if so, which agency should take the lead. 

A handwritten annotation presumably from Attorney General Roxon reads "Just write straight to Minister (sic) proposing we join "and directing that the matter be discussed with two staff in her office. The wheels may have fallen off in that discussion or somewhere else.

The US Secretary of State had invited Australia to join in a letter to the Minister for Foreign Affairs (at the time Kevin Rudd) on 18 August 2011. There is no mention of any reply.

The question of joining the OGP was considered by the Minister for Privacy and Freedom of Information (then Brendan O'Connor, the position has since been abolished) in November 2011 in the context of President Obama's visit to Australia. "The Minister did not agree to pursue joining the OGP at that time" is all we know from the brief.

The only concern voiced anywhere in the document is that some agencies thought the OGP would duplicate the work of other international bodies, particularly those focused on anti-corruption initiatives-not a big problem for many others driving that agenda who are among the 59 member countries.

The Department notes the issue is relevant to the Government's ongoing commitment to openness and transparency.

I made a similar but later request to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

As you can see anything but straightforward there.

Maybe in the course of digging out the document the policy boffins in DFAT might read my compelling case for membership, based in part on foreign policy grounds.

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