The governments later issued a joint statement that noted their "deep concern that many governments are restricting civil society and the rights of freedom of association and expression, both online and offline"; commited to take action "to respond to growing restrictions on civil society that undermine its ability to perform its crucial role.. an alarming trend"; called on "representatives of civil society, the philanthropic community, the private sector, and other governments to partner with us in supporting and defending civil society"; and agreed to meet again at the opening of the 69th United Nations General Assembly to review progress toward these objectives.
The General Assembly convenes on 16 September.
Someone in DFAT is no doubt beavering away on what Australia can say about our efforts to this end.
Speeches by Minister Andrews and plans for the National Centre for Excellence will feature; so will government financial support for the C20 and facilitation of the Global Summit earlier in the year.
A specific commitment in the joint statement was to strengthen support for existing mechanisms that encourage civil society participation such as the Open Government Partnership. The government's current public position is that whether Australia should join the OGP is still 'under consideration' so there is a month (it's been three years) to tidy that up.
I'm sure the report won't go there, but squaring our stated support for an active civil society with other words and deeds would constitute a challenge:
- the Prime Minister's warning to those who want to 'grandstand' against Indonesia over West Papua;
- cuts to funding community legal centres and removal of a clause from the funding agreement that confirmed their role in policy debate and advocacy;
- stated interest in stripping environmental groups of charitable status for tax purposes and removal of legal protections for protestors.