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Thursday, July 04, 2013

Australia and the OGP: promising prospects

In this interview broadcast on gov 2.0 Radio, Australian Information Commissioner Professor John McMillan discusses the Open Government Partnership and what flows from Australia's decision to join. 

Professor McMillan sees benefits from our participation at the international level, in the region through added weight to our promotion of an integrity framework as part of our assistance programs, and at home by focusing further attention on these issues after a few quiet years.

Other observations of interest included:
  • across the country, the Federal government, states and local government have been doing their own thing in the open government space with little formal alignment. The development of a national action plan is an opportunity to look at this from  a truly national perspective
  • transparency, accountability and public participation and engagement underpin the OGP commitment. The Canadian shorthand "Open Information, Open Data, Open Dialogue" captures it well. The US Plan provides a good model for the broad big picture thinking required.
  • achievements in other countries since 2011 have owed much to high level leadership and support of the kind shown, for example by President Obama and UK Cabinet Minister Maude. "We are looking for this in Australia."
  • realistically, open government can complicate life for government decision makers. Information available on the My School website for example focuses attention on political choices concerning funding and brings forward questions about priorities, comparisons and fair and equitable allocation of resources.
  • the OGP initiative isn't just the government out in front on its own. Civil society organisations are interested in these issues but often in specific aspects - for example, traditional FOI for journalists and interest groups, Gov 2.0, and open data for other players. There is a need to lift the sights and move beyond some of these barriers.
  • the National Action Plan must be a collaboration. "Soon" (this was two weeks ago) the first liaison meeting of government agencies involved in OGP issues will take place. Subsequent engagement with those outside government will be challenging. The aim should be to develop a 10-20 page well defined coherent plan. The US approach overall is one that we should follow.
  • "most of the work has been done (in Australia)"- FOI legislation, information commisioner, a government information office (AGIMO), Gov 2.0, examples of innovation etc. To date we "lack a plan that brings this together." Strong political and executive government leadership will be required.
All this sounds promising. Except the "most of the work" part. And I'm sure Professor McMillan didn't mean it literally. 

While good progress on open government has been made over 30 years, this sort of work is never done. 

The OGP National Action Plan model calls on countries to identify "stretch commitments" that go beyond past achievements and repackaging existing plans. That's why it can't be left entirely to government, relying completely on public service advice.

Roll on the collaboration!


  1. Anonymous9:16 pm

    With no political leadership in this area likely over the next few years, I expect the OGP announcement to disappear into bureaucratic battles over budgets and control.

    I don't blame the public service for this - I blame our politicians, who have abandoned the concept of leadership and show little interest in ensuring government is accountable to its owners.

  2. Anonymous,
    You are probably dead right but I don't intend to sit idly by while it happens.

  3. Anonymous4:34 pm

    FOI is a joke. The legislation has no teeth. And thats the way the bureaucrats designed it.