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Tuesday, December 04, 2012

The OGP: Senator Faulkner says the time for Australia to join is now

Well goodness gracious me.

In a speech at the Melbourne search conference "Integrity in Government - A Work in Progress" today highly respected former minister, now government backbencher Senator John Faulkner spoke about the putative national anti corruption plan, the need for a Code of Conduct for parliamentarians, the long overdue comprehensive whistleblower protection legislation and electoral funding reform, and why there is no excuse for further delay on these important integrity reforms. And
the case for  Australian membership of the Open Government Partnership.
Excuse me while I pass the parcel - sorry can't help adding some emphasis. Is anyone in PM&C, DFAT, OAIC, and AGIMO listening? Take it away Senator:
The fourth key step the Commonwealth Government should take is to become a signatory and support the Open Government Partnership. Launched last year in New York, the OGP was established to promote transparency, tackle corruption, invigorate civic participation and, especially important in this digital age, harness new technologies, so the ideals of freedom and democracy are strengthened in implementing countries.
As the Open Government Partnership Declaration observes: “People all around the world are demanding more openness in government, calling for greater civic participation in public affairs, and seeking ways to make their governments more transparent, responsive, accountable and effective”. With its membership now numbering 57, national governments of the Open Government Partnership commit:To be more transparent at every level, by increasing the availability of information about the activities of government.To engage more citizens in decision making, so they participate more actively in their democracy, thereby making government more effective and responsive.To implement the highest standards of professional integrity throughout administrations, and To increase access to new technologies for openness and accountability.Though it goes by the name “Open Government Partnership” – it is in equal measure a partnership with civil society. Government does not have a monopoly on wisdom. The commitments of OGP member states are put into practice by working with civil society organisations to implement concrete plans of action. Already the OGP is setting a new global standard for good governance.
The OGP roll call of democracies committed to strengthening a global culture of transparency and accountability includes some of our oldest friends: the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Norway, and Canada. I am disappointed that Australia is a notable absentee.
The Australian Government has indicated that it is considering the detail of the initiative but has so far reserved its decision on participating in the Open Government Partnership.
Given the Government’s stated commitment to transparency, accountability and good governance, we should not hesitate to join this international effort to promote these fundamental values.  
Australia has always embraced and benefited from participation in international institutions and initiatives. We should seize the opportunity to do the same with the OGP.
It is ironic that the largest recipient of Australia’s overseas development assistance, Indonesia, is a very active member of the Open Government Partnership and currently a co-chair, yet, Australia is nowhere to be seen.  
When other recipients of Australia’s aid, such as the Philippines and Tanzania, are also members, I find it very hard to justify Australia’s absence. Membership of the Open Government Partnership would assist Australia to spread values of transparency and accountability in our region – a region where 22 of Australia’s 24 nearest neighbours are developing countries.
In light of the Gillard Government’s recent Asian Century White Paper and Australia’s new role as a member of the UN Security Council, Australia should utilise the OGP to encourage and support continuing efforts in our region to strengthen democratic processes and encourage greater scrutiny of government. 
Australia has a wealth of knowledge and experience to share with other nations who comprise the growing Open Government Partnership. For example, last November the Government unveiled a new Transparency Charter, which now publishes, online, detailed current information and results about what our aid program is delivering.
Internal audit reports and strategic direction documents are also being published online. Against this backdrop it is not surprising our Agency for International Development – AusAID  - was recently ranked 18 of 72 donors in the 2012 AID Transparency Index developed by Publish What You Fund – The Global Campaign for Aid Transparency.
Encouragingly, the report notes that AusAID had improved its transparency score by 31 percentage points and its rank by 16 places, but, it also made quite clear that Australia should consider joining the OGP.
One example of an international transparency and accountability initiative which Australia has committed to is the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative or EITI. At last year’s Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Perth, Australia actively urged leaders to recognise the importance of sustainable natural resource management and commit to the EITI.
The EITI promotes better governance in countries rich in oil, gas and minerals by seeking to reduce the risk of corrupt diversion or misappropriation of funds generated by the development of a country’s resources.Australia is a member of the EITI Management Committee and has so far committed $17.45 million (2007 to 2015) to the World Bank administered Multi-Donor Trust Fund and the EITI Secretariat.
With the only other EITI-compliant country in our region being Timor Leste, the OGP would provide an excellent opportunity for Australia to encourage our other developing resource-rich neighbours such as Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands to sign on. 
The OGP presents a great opportunity for Australia – a technologically advanced and open democracy – to underpin future commitments to openness, transparency, and accountability through engagement with an internationally recognised and respected multilateral initiative. Membership could only strengthen our democracy and governance. Through the Open Government Partnership we can advocate strongly for more openness in other nations while enriching our own.
The time for Australia to join is now.

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