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Friday, November 15, 2013

Short shut for Open and Shut

If only I had the time before heading off on the high seas for two weeks, I would have said something about:
  • The Open Government Guide launched by the Transparency and Accountability Initiative  during the Open Governmernt Partnership Summit in London. The guide lays out practical steps that could  be taken to improve transparency, accountability and citizen participation in 19 areas, from public services and open data to elections, environment and illicit financial flows. The Guide links to other resources - over 330 case studies and country examples, and external resources on standards. Should be particularly useful when, hopefully, not if,  we get around to discussion of a national action plan, assuming the Open Government Partnership file eventually reaches the top of the pile in Canberra.

  • The statutory review of the Queensland Right to Information Act and the Information Privacy Act. Submissions closed 15 November.

  •  Information about the state of the game in all those annual reports, the OAIC for one.

  • The iappANZ Privacy Summit in Sydney on 25 November with former UK Information Commissioner Richard Thomas just one of the draws.

  • The apparent first instance of exercise of power by the South Australian Minister for the Public Sector under section 39(9) of the FOI act in issuing an assessment of the public interest that in effect limits review of an FOI determination - a near relation to the conclusive ministerial certificate of an earlier darker era in other jurisdictions.

Be back sporadically, and more constantly around the end of the month.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Out of the box thinkers interested in a pot of gold?

Those who constantly muse 'why don't they just..', 

Here's your chance.

This Global competition launched at the OGP summit in London by Making All Voices Count: A Grand Challenge for Development (a partnership between USAID, (UK) DFID, Sweden and Omidyar Network) seeks new, original and innovative ideas from companies, organisations, government agencies and individuals to increase government transparency and accountability focusing on one or more of these topics:
  • Fiscal Transparency
  • Access to Information
  • Disclosures Related to Elected or Senior Public Officials; and
  • Citizen Engagement
"Making All Voices Count supports innovative, out-of-the-box ideas and initiatives to boost citizen engagement and government responsiveness. Inspired by the principles of the OGP, this Grand Challenge for Development focuses global attention on creative solutions—including those that use mobile and web technology—to ensure that the voices of all citizens are heard and to increase both the incentive, and capacity, of governments to listen and respond."
The Competition opens on November 12, 2013 and closes on December 6, 2013.

The winner will receive a £65,000 grant and runner ups each £35,000. Seven smaller prizes of £5,000 will be awarded. The best applicants will compete through both a public online voting and a peer-review system. The top 10 semi-finalists will be flown to Nairobi for a Global Innovation and Award Week.

Shake off those cobwebs ....

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Parliamentary entitlement reform way short of the mark

The announcement today that the Abbott government accepts changes to the system of parliamentary entitlements are necessary is welcome, warrants a few headlines and will enable ministers to parry questions when parliament resumes next week. Former ALP special ministers of state Ludwig and Gray who sat on reform of the system for years presumably shouldn't raise the issue even if given the chance.

But the measures announced in this Media Release and Attachment issued by Special Minister of State Ronaldson fall way short of what is needed. And the policy process - dusting off, then cherry-picking from a report that has been sitting around largely unnoticed for the last three years, with an added twist here and there - is fail grade by any measure.

The changes mainly concern use of travel entitlements. No surprise following the mainstream media's belated discovery of information published since 2008 on the Department of Finance website.

But they won't deliver a comprehensive, easily accessible, timely, searchable method for disclosure of what taxpayers' money is paid to, for or on behalf of parliamentarians and how that money is used as they go about their business. 

Forget the petty cash details, much more is involved,

Quite apart from the rules regarding entitlements that need tightening, and in this respect the government is at least moving in the right direction, there is no mention of any change to the timeliness of information published by Finance regarding payments it makes. These details are put on the web months after the event, and nowhere close to real time. The latest published are for the six months to December 2012.

Ditto, regarding the separate payments made to for or on behalf of parliamentarians by the Department of the House of Representatives, Department of Senate and Department of Parliamentary Services. They aren't published at all.  

No mention either of any intention to remedy the hole in the accountability system that parliament created when it rushed through earlier in the year legislation to exempt the parliamentary departments from the Freedom of Information Act  The departments are collectively allocated around $170 million each year.

Then there are the payments made on behalf of ministers by their departments, for transport and hospitality for example. None of this information is published.

Minister Ronaldson made no mention of what is really needed on the transparency front - full transparency in the form of a single website that brings together information for each parliamentarian regarding all payments from whatever source.Together with other disclosables such as each member's interests as recorded in the mandatory register of interests. 

As to process, Policy 101 might suggest  a better result on a hot topic such as this would involve a process encompassing an acknowledgment that change is warranted, throwing out ideas on what might be done to achieve agreed public purposes, and inviting inputs on how we might set new high standards and define the system that might deliver them.

Neither the Coalition government nor the ALP in government or opposition seem much interested in process or reform, of this kind.

Friday, November 08, 2013

The ABC boosts FOI stocks

Michael McKinnon is set to join the ABC in 2014 as Freedom of Information editor after pioneering this role through stints at The Courier Mail, The Australian and most recently the Seven Network.

Best wishes.

Linton Besser, already recruited from the Sydney Morning Herald and others hired to boost investigative journalism know their way through the FOI maze as well. 

Should make for interesting discussion around the water cooler about the ABC's broad approach to interpretation of its own part exemption from the Freedom of information Act.
Wonder if others in the media pack will FOI the salary packages of the new team?

'Peak transparency'- surely this isn't as good as it gets?

Murphy's law has been top of my mind in this week of moving house. The experience confirms you can never know enough in advance about that one.

A few things from a little reading in the wash up to the Open Government Partnership Summit in London:

Thirty seven countries each made a new stretch commitment. 

Jane Dudman in The Guardian, cites Indian human rights campaigner Aruna Roy's telling question at the final session to Secretary of State Kerry:
"There's more transparency in governments, there's more accountability,".."And at the same time, there are more restrictive laws being passed by all governments today than ever before and there is an attempt at surveillance by my government and your governments. Why is this happening?"
In light of this trend and counter trend, Alex Howard of Columbia University queries whether we are experiencing 'peak open':
Scrolling back through thousands of #OGP13 tweets, watching conference pictures, or reading the summit agenda or fact sheets doesn't capture the mix of excitement, optimism, skepticism and anger that attendees could feel on every floor of the conference. Swirling underneath the professional glitz of an international summit were strong undercurrents of concern about its impact upon governments reluctant to cede power, reveal corruption or risk embarrassment upon disclosure of simple incompetence. The OGP summit took place at a moment where 21st century technology-fueled optimism has splashed up against the foundations of institutions created in the previous century.
Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, head of the Indonesian president's delivery unit takes the OGP lead co chair position, putting citizen engagement up as one theme for 2014.

Meanwhile mostly silence from Canberra rather than any public acknowledgement by the government of the importance of transparency and accountability. And nothing on the OGP and the membership requirement of a national action plan to be developed jointly with civil society.

However Attorney General Brandis is ready to roll on his freedom priorities:
''It is a very important part of my agenda to re-centre that debate so that when people talk about rights, they talk about the great liberal democratic rights of freedom of expression, freedom of association, freedom of worship and freedom of the press.''
As access to information is an important element of freedom of expression, here's hoping he is interested also in removing some statutory barriers to the exercise of that right.

Foreign Minister Bishop meanwhile is in Indonesia this week at the Bali Democracy Forum amid revelations about Australia doing its bit there as part of the co-operative intelligence-gathering arrangements between the 'five eyes.' A year ago at the forum Prime Minister Gillard was hot to trot about democratic practices but failed to mention the OGP and the opportunity to translate words into action.

It might prove a juggle in the somewhat uncomfortable circumstances, but hopefully Ms Bishop has something on topic about the OGP in the briefing notes this time round.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Slow time for Open and Shut but not for Allan Kessing

I'm in the middle of moving house, with a brief overseas visit to follow so thin pickings here through to the end of November. No sympathy sought or needed of course.

And any discombobulation at the sight of those packing cases not worth mentioning in the same breath as Allan Kessing, regrouping after the devastating loss of his home in the bushfires a few weeks back. Friends and supporters of Allan (email me at for details of how you can contribute) have helped put a slight spring in his step but he still has plenty of 'why' moments.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Australia should get with the strength and square the circle on transparency

With British Prime Minister Cameron, UK Foreign Secretary Hague, US Secretary of State Kerry, Indonesian Vice President Boediono and many world leaders siding with, supporting and advocating for transparency and open government at the Open Government Partnership summit in London, a strange silence and disjuncture here as ministers in the Abbott Government maintain silence to allow the facts to speak for themselves. 

The facts suggest a clampdown and drawback as detailed by Bianca Hall in Fairfax Media today. No sign to date of enthusiasm for a journey towards new frontiers.

At the heavy-weight OGP meeting in London, Australia, to assume the chair of the G 20 in December, was represented by the Government's Chief Technology Officer. I hope he managed to make it somewhere close to the top tables. 

I don't know what Mr Sheridan had to say while there but the words 'Open Government Partnership' are yet to pass Abbott government ministerial lips here at home.The public record amounts to an announcement of intention to join by then Attorney General Dreyfus in May, and a supporting statement for civil society and mechanisms such as the OGP issued on our behalf by the White House in September,

Following London, Indonesia is the co-chair with Mexico for the next two years.
Vice President Boedino (who knows a bit about our system and our leaders having attended the University of WA and Monash and had a spell at the ANU in Canberra) told the OGP Summit two things will characterize Indonesia’s approach during this period:
First, we see OGP as an innovative movement that is powered by real actions. It is a platform for sharing experiences to inspire each other to act. We believe that openness is basically about improving governance and enhancing policy effectiveness by more fully accommodating the people’s voice in the decision-making that affects their daily lives, thus creating broader civic ownership of government programs. Second, we hope OGP could also contribute to the success of the global development agenda, particularly the Post-2015 Development Agenda. OGP could provide insights, best practices, and innovations on how to strengthen governance, particularly for developing countries. Additionally, OGP could diseminate experiences on how to take advantage of information technology as an affordable and quick means to improve good governance.
Indonesian media are highlighting the fact that apart from 61 member countries the World Bank Group, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and the United Nations Development Programme have pledged support to OGP.

Just why we aren't on the front foot about the opportunities remains a mystery. Unless we really don't believe in this stuff.

I wrote to the Prime Minister about the OGP two weeks ago having previously written to him, Senator Brandis, Julie Bishop and Malcolm Turnbull. 

This acknowledgement is the sum total of responses:
Thank you for your message to the Prime Minister..
Below is a copy for your records. Responses prepared to your message will generally be emailed to you. If you have supplied a postal address, a response may be sent to you via Australia
Post. In some cases, your message may be forwarded to other Federal Ministers
for their consideration.

This is an automatically generated email. Please do not reply to this email as this address is not monitored.

Submitted on Thursday, 19 September 2013 - 5:03pm

Title: Mr
First name: Peter
Family name: Timmins
Email address:
Your address: 2004/73 Victoria St, Potts Point, Sydney, NSW, 2011
Subject: Open Government partnership and relations with Indonesia
Congratulations and best wishes. Your meeting with the President of Indonesia
on 30 September offers the opportunity to indicate that your government will
continue on with the announced intention by Labor in May this year that
Australia will join the Open Government Partnership. The OGP was launched by
President Obama in September 2011. Sixty countries have now joined or
announced they intend to join. New Zealand is the latest with Prime Minister
Key today making an announcement to this effect after a meeting with Prime
Minister Cameron in London. The UK and Indonesia are the current co-chairs of
the initiative.  Australia will benefit at home and abroad by identifying
with others who share our interest in transparent and open government,
combating corruption, and harnessing new technologies to increase public
participation in government.

Peter Timmins
Open and Shut

Ah that trust deficit......

Friday, November 01, 2013

British PM makes the case for open government and open institutions

In the opening address to the Open Government Partnership British Prime Minister David Cameron emphasised four big things leaders, politicians, businesses, civil society and transparency activists must do:
"First, we’ve got to go out there and really make the argument for open government.We can’t just sit there and assume there is some great, inexorable trend towards political freedom....
Second, we’ve got to translate words into deeds. We can’t just talk about open government – we’ve got to deliver....
Third, in developed countries we’ve got to practice what we preach. When we talk about transparency elsewhere, we’ve got to show it at home too....
(Fourth) We’ve got to give our full-throated support for groups that promote transparency – not least the Open Government Partnership.This is a truly exciting institution. Rather than getting bogged down in endless communiqués, the OGP is all about concrete reform...
On practice what you preach, Mr Cameron announced that in line with a G8 commitment the UK will establish a central register of company beneficial ownership. And that it will be open to the public. (And he's probably never even heard of former NSW minister Eddie Obeid.)