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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

OGP looking for Bright Spots

The Open Government Partnership is running a Bright Spots Competition to identify and showcase open government initiatives at the Annual Summit in London in October. 

I'm sure there will be lots of compelling case studies of steps large and small that have moved things along in member countries towards OGP goals-to make government better, more transparent, effective, accountable -- with institutions that empower citizens and are responsive to their aspirations..

Not sure if the fact you are from an intending member is enough to qualify, but prompted by the suggestion that a campaign to get your country to sign up to the OGP might be a Bright Spot, I thought (my version) of the Australian story was worth the requisite 350 words. And a possible gig in London in October. Just dreaming again, sigh.. 

This went off to Washington today:

On 21 September 2011, the day after the OGP was launched in New York, I wrote my first blog post on the subject, querying why 46 countries were represented there but Australia was not.  

After all we had a 100% score on eligibility, espouse the values reflected in the Open Government Declaration and that underpin the partnership, have a long uninterrupted record as a proud democracy with good practices including as an early adopter of Freedom of Information legislation, and promote good, open, transparent government in the Asia Pacific region and elsewhere through our official aid program and in other ways. 

I was flabbergasted when on a visit to Washington in March 2012, Toby McIntosh of Freedom told me the word there was Australia had decided not to join. Passing interest morphed into passionate advocacy.

By May 2013 when the Attorney General announced Australia’s intention to join, I had written 40 blog posts on the subject; lobbied ministers and parliamentarians; utilised the Freedom of Information Act to access documents concerning thinking within government or establish there had been none or not enough; encouraged questions to be asked about the state of play in Senate Committee hearings; and sparked interest among civil society organisations and prominent activists involved with openness and transparency issues.

Good support emerged from within and without government and parliament particularly from former minister and current government senator John Faulkner, a widely respected voice for integrity who spoke up publicly for membership as a high priority.

The Government has said little in the months since the announcement about the process to develop the National Action Plan. In readiness a discussion group has been established that includes interested citizens, academics and leaders of bodies such as Transparency International Australia, the Accountability Roundtable, and Publish What You Pay Australia. A dialogue is underway about how the government-CSO partnership might work best.

Australia is now in pre-election mode with national elections to be held on 7 September. The coalition of the two main opposition parties seems likely to win at this stage. Those parties have not commented publicly on Australia and the OGP but efforts are underway seeking to ensure bipartisan and ongoing support. 

The current intention is that Australia formally present its membership application at the Ministerial meeting in Jakarta in 2014.

It took almost two years for Australia to come to its senses and stand firm and alongside like-minded countries in the OGP. If any lesson is to be learned, it’s the importance of persistence and patience.

Australia has a lot to learn from, and a lot to give others in the partnership.
No idea what, if any Australian government and non-government presence we might have in London in October. September 7 is a determining factor for the government side, funding, principally, for the other.

Maybe (living in hope as usual) some thought is being given in the corridors in Canberra to ensuring both sides of the prospective Australian partnership put on a reasonable first showing at the OGP?

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