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Sunday, May 19, 2013

No OGP joy in budget, all eyes on EITI in Sydney this week

Nothing in the Portfolio Budget Statements for Attorney General's Department, Office of Australian Information Commissioner or Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade-the three likely suspects - to indicate that Australia will be moving into 2013-2014 with a funded initiative to take us into the Open Government Partnership. 

Sigh.. But ever hopeful, maybe it means we are moving inexorably towards membership, thinking it won't cost a cracker, or nothing more than can be found within funds allocated for the normal course of business. Or something has been squirrelled away in that line item of $463 million for budgeted items yet to be announced?

However the OGP financial ground rules are changing.The minutes(pdf) of the meetings in London in April reveal that a request is coming in June for a voluntary financial pledge in 2013 by all members of at least $25k, with mandatory annual contributions from 2014.  Members of the Steering Committee who always had to dig deep are to be asked for an annual contribution of between $100 and $300k.

The $25k would be no big deal but other costs are involved.The OAIC months back flagged it would need two extra staff if it was to be the lead agency, which may or may not prove to be adequate. Factor in as well the cost of doing something meaningful in developing a National Action Plan and reaching out to civil society to get there, and participating fully in international and regional activity and it means more will be needed than the key to the petty cash tin.

So here we are in late May 2013 with the Australian Government's intentions still unknown.  Notwithstanding former Attorney General Roxon's proposal to ministerial colleagues in 2012 that we join, Senator Faulkner's conviction in February that the OGP was exactly the sort of thing Roxon's successor Mark Dreyfus stood for, Foreign Minister Carr's indication at that time of in principle support, and Australian Information Commissioner Professor McMillan's observation that Australian membership was "inevitable only a matter of time."

There is the opportunity this week for an announcement at the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative Global Conference in Sydney with Minister Gray and Assistant Treasurer Bradbury scheduled to speak to the 1300 delegates. That will raise a cheer from where I'll be sitting and I'm sure I won't be alone.

Continued silence will mean that Senate Estimates commencing 27 May provide another opportunity for those senators interested to probe process, which DFAT Secretary Varghese assured in February would be speedy. Senator Faulkner left off then saying he would be watching. I'm sure officials are looking forward to Estimates as much as I am.

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