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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Australia and the OGP: seize the day at Sydney EITI Conference?

Sounds as if the meetings of the Open Government Partnership in London this week were likely challenging - Toby McIntosh identified in advance these ticklish issues from a crowded agenda.

We're just onlookers of course (did we have anyone working the corridors?) until we take the plunge when the challenges will take on new relevance. 

But hopefully things have progressed regarding our intentions, through that "inter-agency group" revealed in February, since Foreign Minister Carr said yes in principle to membership, and DFAT Secretary Varghese committed to a speedy resolution and response to that letter of invitation in 2011 from Hillary Clinton still cluttering someone's intray.

In any event, glad to see in Australian IT this week, Dr Nick Tate, president of the Australian Computer Society among other important positions, query what's holding us back.

Here's a thought on how we could make a late but stylish entry to the OGP, courtesy of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) Global Conference, Beyond Transparency in Sydney, May 23-24. 

A Government minister, possibly Foreign Minister Carr or Assistant Treasurer Bradbury is expected to welcome the thousand delegates from around the world.

While strong supporters of the EITI internationally, including through a sizeable cash contribution to assist implementation, the Government apparently isn't in a position at this stage to announce  a commitment to implement the EITI on home turf. 

However the complementary goals of the two initiatives and the many cross-overs of those involved with or engaged in the EITI and the OGP in many countries, means this is just the occasion for an announcement that Australia intends to join the OGP. 

An action statement to this audience, would, more than words, lift our standing as a country committed to high standards of transparency and accountability at home, and prepared to put shoulder to the wheel for this cause abroad.

So if you have their ear, a word or a message advocating this is the way to go to Minister Carr, Attorney General Dreyfus, Assistant Treasurer Bradbury and any others close to the seat of power might give things a nudge in the right direction.

By the way registration  for the EITI conference is free. I've signed up and look forward to meeting readers and others there. 

Maybe even one who illustrates the point about common EITI/OGP ground: Maryati Abdullah of Publish What You Pay (Indonesia), a member of the Indonesian OGP core team and one of three new members of the Open Government Partnership Steering Committee welcomed at the London meeting.

More about the EITI and Australia, EITI and OGP and our scattered voice on transparency issues generally..

The EITI is a coalition of governments, companies and civil society organisations promoting a global standard for revenue transparency generated from extraction of natural resources.  Companies publish what they pay and governments publish what they receive in an EITI Report.  

Australia and the EITI
AusAID promotes EITI abroad through the aid program and the Government provides funding for EITI implementation support. 

Australia is yet to sign up to implement the EITI in domestic law. A report from a Multi-Stakeholder Group is expected towards the end of the year. This Update from the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism outlines where things stand with an Australian pilot. In this area (and others!) our federal system raises complexities, hence the involvement of some state governments in the MSG, and loads of technical issues that need to be addressed jointly.

The need for revenue transparency in the exploitation of extractive industries was the subject of a UN resolution co-sponsored by Australia in 2008. The G8 and G20 urge support for the EITI. Australia will be in the G20 chair from September this year.

Analysis by Global Integrity of the national action plans submitted by OGP member countries, shows 14 including the US list the EITI as a priority issue.

Australia and transparency activism
However joining the dots, or joining the transparency, open government and other related causes seems a bigger challenge for us than elsewhere, a point made here last year. I know all NGOs are stretched and have to make choices about engagement but there's scope for improved dialogue and maybe maximising effect. To illustrate..

Publish What You Pay (PWYP) is one of the main international civil society players promoting the EITI. PWYP is a global network of 650 civil society organisations. One is listed in the Membership list under Australia, Jubilee Australia. (I hadn't heard of Jubilee Australia but that's only because I lead a sheltered life...)

 PWYP has an Australian chapter:
"PWYP Australia was launched in June 2011. The coalition is made up of a wide range of organisations – human rights, aid, faith-based, anti-corruption and environmental among others – that all see revenue transparency as central to their objectives."
Members aren't listed on the website but appear at the foot of this letter. I had heard of most (not so sheltered after all) but Transparency International is the only one of 28 that has been part of the discussion and debate about broader transparency and accountability issues including freedom of information and the OGP cause.

PWYP Australia says it is funded by Oxfam America and the (US) Revenue Watch Institute, and one Australian body, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU). 
(The union movement hasn't figured in the wider good government/transparency debate since the sixties and seventies when it was an important player in the push for a freedom of information act.)

Last piece of the jigsaw: Claire Spoors of Oxfam Australia is the National PWYP Coordinator. I've made contact with her this week about the OGP. To date it's not been an issue high on their list.

The general lament is that despite the shared interest in transparency, we have few links here between those advocating for
  • revenue transparency through the EITI at home and abroad;
  • the OGP;
  • open government/open data;
  • anti-corruption measures and improved democratic practice such as whistleblower protection, full disclosure of political donations and better disclosure of lobbying activity; and
  • freedom of information law and practice and related issues including pro-active publication of government information.
(Afterthought, sorry: and all those involved in pushing transparency boundaries in speciific fields across the entire spectrum at all levels of government - environment, health, welfare to mention just a few.)  

OGP membership and some ambitious thinking about Australia's national action plan and how to engage with civil society in such an exercise might just do the trick. 

Comments and observations welcome as usual.


  1. Peter thank you for raising the wonderful idea of Min Carr announcing Australia's decision to join the OGP at the EITI global conference next month. As you have indicated, there is little chance the Govt will be in a position to signal its intent to move to full implementation of the EITI and the work of the Multi-Stakeholder Group suggests there is a great challenge before us to convince the Govt it should. But the CSO voices are united and strong and thank you for noting the importance of the EITI and the opportunity to link it to adoption of the OGP. Carmelan, Jubilee Australia (So pleased you've found us.)

  2. Carmelan,
    Thanks. Can I suggest you and the other CSOs interested convey your thoughts to Ministers Carr and Dreyfus in particular and to anyone else in Canberra close to the action on the EITI and the OGP. The Government has missed good opportunities before this to announce we're in-hopefully not this one. Cheers.