Governance was one of the four key policy issues preoccupying the Summit.
The decline in trust and the associated issue of lack of transparency and accountability were constant refrains in various sessions including open government, anti-corruption and tax transparency.
Chair of the C20 Steering Committee Tim Costello said “Good governance includes transparency and accountability to citizens.”
Relevant policy 'asks' from the Summit aimed at tackling corruption and addressing the transparency issue include the development of a new focused and measurable G20 Anti-Corruption Plan, and public registries required to disclose accurate beneficial ownership information – in open data format – of companies, trusts and other legal structures, to tackle tax avoidance, tax evasion, corruption, money laundering and terrorist financing.
The Summit Communique was handed to the Prime Minister, the chair of this year's G20 leaders, yesterday.
In the lead up to the Summit an economic analysis on the potential of open data to support the G20’s 2% growth target was released in Canberra by Martin Tisne of the Omidyar Network. The analysis Open for Business was undertaken by Lateral Economics and illustrates how
"an open data agenda can make a significant contribution to economic growth and productivity. Combining all G20 economies, output could increase by USD 13 trillion cumulatively over the next five years. Implementation of open data policies would thus boost cumulative G20 GDP by around 1.1 percentage points (almost 55%) of the G20’s 2% growth target over five years."The C20 Communique calls for G20 members to "release data and statistics used to inform the G20 working groups as open data where legally possible and include open data requirements within G20 policy recommendations."
The Open for Business Report calls on G20 governments to sign up to the Open Data Charter, as the G8 urged a year ago.
Minister for Communications Malcolm Turnbull noted earlier in the year:
Unfortunately, in Australia, the private sectors interest in leveraging public data has been limited simply because of the lack of data that has been made publicly available. We are committed to working with agencies to ensure the publication of data becomes a routine government function. And importantly, if we are to catch up with the United States, which has published more than 200,000 data sets, we must ensure that data is not only published regularly but in a machine readable form. We are committed to turning around our slow start to empower the private sector to capitalise on the disruptive potential of information, of data...So terrific that government might do more to make data holdings publicly available, giving effect to Parliament's intention in the (2010) objects section of the Freedom of Information Act "to increase recognition that information held by the Government is to be managed for public purposes, and is a national resource."
The current Australian Government's Principles on open public sector information state that open access should be our default position. And this approach is reflected in the United States too where President Barack Obama, on his first full day in office, who issued a presidential memorandum that,"in the face of doubt, openness prevails [when it comes to the release of agency data]."
And, as recommended by the Government 2.0 Taskforce, the information must be truly open. So unless there are good reasons, to the contrary, government information should be:
- easily discoverable
- based on open standards and, of course, machine-readable
- properly documented and therefore understandable, and
- licensed to be freely reusable and transformable."
However opening up the data side of the shop with more discretionary disclosure while leaving unattended the broader issue of transparency and accountability would lead to one door open and the other half (or more) shut.
Let's open both doors wider by commiting to the Open Government Declaration on the way to membership of the Open Government Partnership.
Thereafter fully engage in a meaningful partnership with civil society to develop a national action plan that addresses open data, and improved transparency for accountability, public participation, anti-corruption and a myriad other purposes.
There's a dollar sign as well somewhere for improving trust, confidence, and ultimately government's capacity to make and stick with hard decisions that advance the public interest.