But our international voice is somewhat muted because of our disinterest to date in joining the major global initiative on transparent, accountable government, the Open Government Partnership.
We have of course been as pleased as punch to be part of the G20, and since December as the prospective chair and host in 2014, to join Mexico (2012 chair) and Russia (2013 chair) in the troika of past, current and future chairs. As the Prime Minister explained, membership of the troika is a key leadership opportunity:
As part of this group, Australia will play an enhanced role in guiding the G20’s work in the lead-up to our G20 Presidency in 2014.Other leaders of the G20, and of the other group of the even more powerful and influential, the G8, are talking up transparency in their list of priority global issues.
Russia, an OGP member, has three priorities for its year in the G20 chair: growth, through quality jobs and investment, trust and transparency and effective regulation. (Somewhat aspirational perhaps, both at home and abroad, but worth encouraging and supporting nonetheless.)
The UK, to host this year's G8 meeting in June, and separately the current lead OGP co-chair has three G8 priority issues in its sights, as outlined in this speech by Prime Minister Cameron - trade, global taxation matters, and
... making our world and making businesses in our world and making governments in our world much more transparent, much more open. Now there’s a very high-minded objective to this but there’s also a slightly more down-to-earth and national interest objective to this. There is a high-minded interest because when you look around the world you can see some of the poorest countries that find they have mineral wealth – they have oil or they have coal or they have gas – and it turns out to be a complete curse rather than a blessing because the money from that material wealth is taken from the people, not shared by the government, and a more transparent way of dealing with this can make sure these resources are a blessing for those countries and not a curse. But there is a slightly less noble motive in all of this which is that in Britain, in the United Kingdom, we have some of the toughest rules about transparency, about openness, about the way we do business, about not bribing, about not being corrupt. And we have those rules, and actually, frankly, it’s in our interest if those rules are applied all over the world.G8 countries apart from the UK that belong to the OGP are the United States, Russia, Italy, and Canada. France (who apparently sent a representative to a December OGP meeting of all members and prospective members), Germany and Japan do not.
G20 member countries that belong are Argentina, Canada, Italy, Indonesia, Mexico, South Africa, United States, Russia, Turkey, Brazil, Republic of Korea and United Kingdom.
G20 members that don't, apart from Australia, are Germany, China, Japan, France, India and Saudi Arabia.
Given the OGP aims "to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance", you would think it was right up our alley.
So did the Attorney General in May last year who said (to her department at least) "let's propose we join", but the wheels seem to have fallen off somewhere since.
The United States and Brazil initially led the OGP. Currently Indonesia co-chairs with the UK. The UK's lead chair OGP priorities are:
Presumably the Brits have had a word to us about standing and speaking up? And why the hesitation to stand alongside Indonesia, among other good company, on this governance, pro-democracy, anti-corruption issue?
Indonesia will become lead chair in September 2013, potentially bringing our non-membership into closer focus. (Mexico will assume co-chairmanship in September 2013, and becomes lead chair in September 2014.)
As to who in Canberra is driving (or responsible for parking) the OGP, who knows?
Attorney General Roxon might usefully do some prodding. Foreign Minister Carr could be asking as well, after Senator Faulkner put the issue on the table recently.
DFAT meanwhile is making a meal of my FOI request for documents that would throw some light on what policy thinkers there think about it all. A decision is now expected on 30 January, about 70 days after the application was lodged.
The G20 Taskforce in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, among others should be up to speed on this, given our enhanced G20 leadership role. If it hasn't done so, someone there might usefully pick up the phone to see if DFAT, AG's, OAIC, AGIMO, and AUSAID and RET (who both have an interest in the related Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative) have anything to say.
If the taskforce needs a quick summary of the case for Australian membership here are 10 points worth considering.
PM&C Associate Secretary Dr Gordon de Brouwer (in conversation here, in Moscow in December with Ksenia Yudaeva, Chief of the Russian Presidential Experts’ Directorate) might find a briefing note handy when he heads off as the Prime Minister's special representative at the next G20 'Sherpa' meeting.
An announcement that we are to seek membership would be even better and welcome in many places including Jakarta and Washington. And the start of a government-civil society partnership on the homefront that has been sadly missing to date.
Hat tip to Toby McIntosh of Freedominfo.org for the heads up on some of these developments.