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Monday, May 27, 2013

Australia and the OGP: next, who leads whom, where?

Now that Australia has lodged its letter of intent to join the Open Government Partnership, next step is the development of the national action plan.

But before that, who's driving this cart? 

Hopefully Senate Estimates this week may see a bit of prodding on this issue, and into current thinking within government on where things go from here.

Ideally the Prime Minister ("let the sunshine in") supported by her department should grab the reins. As per the US where President Obama leads from the White House, and the UK where Minister for the Cabinet Office Francis Maude is in charge, supported by the Cabinet Office Transparency Team.

Foreign Affairs? A domestic portfolio is better suited, although DFAT should stay closer to the action than hitherto (!) as the OGP has an important foreign policy dimension. 

Attorney General's perhaps as AG Dreyfus has Senator Faulkner's endorsement as someone really interested in the principles that underpin the OGP? (Update: AGD it is.)

Or maybe the Office of Australian Information Commissioner or Finance and Deregulation (AGIMO)?

The decision on lead agency and the way the agency designated views the issues and manages the development of a national action plan are vitally important.

The project requires some "outside the square" thinking about engagement with civil society that must go beyond an invitation on a website for submissions, the preferred methodology of quite a few in Canberra still hanging onto the nineteen seventies.

And the plan should only be a broad and rough outline of "concrete new commitments on open government" until that engagement takes place. Not simply a repackaging of low hanging fruit, as these documents released earlier in the year suggested.

Gov 2.0, Open Data and better use of technology are important. So are other transparency  issues sure to be raised when people peek outside the Parliamentary Triangle: for example next stage FOI (wherever we end up after the Hawke report due to be tabled in this session), and next stage integrity and anti-corruption including our long delayed national Anti-Corruption Plan and whistleblower protection, disclosure of political donations and better disclosure of lobbying activity. And the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative to mention just a few other matters that warrant consideration. 

The US first crack at this in 2012 after extensive engagement with civil society provides an indication of this kind of broad thinking.

We need to move promptly in a similar manner towards our own version.

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