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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Australia's Open Government Partnership ambition-twaddle or true commitment?

2016 should tell!

Judith Sloan writing in The Australian includes Australia's commitment to the OGP in her list of contenders for Twaddle of the Year 2015, along with the innovation statement:
My favourite part of the innovation statement is the bit about government as exemplar, an example of twaddle-speak itself. But let me turn to the master: “Right across the board you will see there are measures to ensure that government is digitally transformed, so that it is nimble, so that you can deal with government as easily as you can with eBay or with one of the big financial institutions.”
And just to give substance to this government as exemplar gig, you will be pleased to know that “Prime Minister Turnbull has committed the Australian government to membership of the Open Government Partnership and public consultation was launched to develop the National Action Plan for open government. The Open Government Partnership is a voluntary, multi-stakeholder international initiative created to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance.”
And here’s a further heads-up: “the Prime Minister’s aim is for the first Australian National Action Plan to include ambitious actions that support the OGP grand challenges of improving public services and better managing public resources. If we want this to happen, Australia needs your suggestions and input!”
Sloan in the end gives the prize to Ban Ki Moon for comments about the Paris climate conference.

The Prime Minister can put Sloan herself up there as a contender with deeds that match the words: by July 2016 an OGP National Action Plan developed in the true spirit of partnership with civil society containing a set of ambitious, concrete commitments to reform on transparency, open government, citizen participation and technological innovation.

And before the consultation process gets into second gear, canning the bill to abolish the Office of Australian Information Commissioner. 

The bill is opposed by a majority in the Senate and sits in the Bills List not just gathering dust but strengthening the hand of Sloan and others of sceptical bent.

The Australian Open Government Partnership Network and its members are prepared to take the PM at his word at this stage.

The Network's Interim Steering Committee is
Dr David Solomon (Accountability Roundtable), Chair,

Greg Thompson (Transparency International Australia)

Kat Szuminska (OpenAustralia Foundation)

Dr Nicholas Gruen (Open Knowlege Australia)
Leanne O'Donnell (Blueprint for Free Speech)

Jon Lawrence (Electronic Frontiers Australia)

Dr Johan Lidberg, School of Journalism Monash University

Craig Thomler, Social Media Planner, Digital Specialist, Gov 2.0 Advocate.

Convener Peter Timmins.

Sign in here to learn more about the Network as things move ahead in the new year. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

FOI veteran Waterford lets go with a few wild swings and low blows.

When Jack Waterford Editor- at- Large at The Canberra Times talks Freedom of Information, the rest of us listen. 

After all Waterford has been on this beat from the very beginning, lodging a raft of FOI applications on 1 December 1982, the day the Commonwealth FOI act commenced, followed by hundreds in the years since including two that went all the way to the High Court; was named the Graham Perkin Australian Journalist of the Year in 1985 for his work on FOI, and in 2007, Canberra Citizen of the year and a Member of the Order of Australia.

His opinion piece last week "FOI laws are resented and resisted" is as usual a good read, including some history about John Wood, another FOI champion, and commentary on the AAT decision in Wood and PM&C, the subject also of an earlier report by Chris Knaus about access to documents concerning the Ombudsman in 2011, Alan Asher.

Waterford on a roll
Waterford goes on to give the government a justified serve over the attempt to abolish the Office of Australian Information Commissioner, criticises the attacks on information access including by Public Service Commissioner John ('FOI very pernicious') Lloyd, and delivers a tough assessment of former Australian Information Commissioner Professor John McMillan and the OAIC generally, stating
"I could never be convinced that most of the quasi-judicial officers of the office of the Australian Information Commissioner were ever very much in favour of FOI or, in practice, very likely to cause disclosure to occur, at least within a reasonable period of time."
That's a wild swing, low blow or both.

In getting stuck into the OAIC and McMillan, Waterford makes no mention of the factors beyond control of the office that impacted on performance of the OAIC since establishment in November 2010 and tops it off with an error about the earlier IC decision in Wood.

Wood case
Recounting the background to the AAT decision, Waterford writes that PM&C's arguments for keeping the document in dispute secret when the matter came before the OAIC a year previously "very much impressed the FOI Commissioner and received his fairly usual rubber stamp."

Well mostly, the arguments didn't impress the commissioner at all.

Deputy President Forgie in a decision that Waterford praises reached exactly the same decision as then commissioner Popple who he criticises: that subject to two deletions the document is not exempt:
80.For the reasons I have given, I affirm the decision of the Information Commissioner dated 19 December 2014...
(Of course Deputy President Forgie takes longer to get there adding along the way valuable guidance about the interpretation and application of the FOI act.)

Waterford in making the rubber stamp remark does not mention that the commissioner in that 2014 decision [83-119]  rejected the deliberative process exemption claims by PM&C for seven other documents consisting of briefs, question time briefs and briefing notes for Senate estimates hearings and a record of conversation between the Ombudsman and Secretary of the Department.

PM&C had argued disclosure would be contrary to the public interest, the end of 'frank and candid' with flow on dire consequences. Having not impressed or persuaded the commissioner the department did not seek further review of those parts of the commissioner's decision. Presumably departmental officers soldier on providing Prime Minister Turnbull (three prime ministers on from the one who received the briefing note) with frank and candid advice despite it all.

in his comments about the OAIC which has endured the axe hanging in the air for 19 months since the government announced the intention to abolish the office, Waterford does not mention issues that cumulatively hampered performance: limited powers and no sticks (eg review decisions not binding; no penalties), no political appetite for reforms and modifications to the scheme suggested by McMillan and others, fewer resources than anticipated and expected, and importantly a failure of leadership at the ministerial level that left McMillan to fly the flag for culture change while faced with senior public servants 'going red' at the mere mention of FOI and open government. 

Contrary to Waterford's comment that he can't think of one OAIC decision that has amounted to much, an SBS report this week suggests quite a bit of commendable OAIC disagreement with agency decisions: of the 352 IC decisions examined 
"141 (40 per cent) were to 'set aside' and change FOI decision outcomes completely..A further 38 (11 per cent) review decisions were to 'vary', where the OAIC mostly agreed with the FOI decisions made by government agencies, but disagreed with the reasoning."
That strike rate doesn't include mediated results that aren't formal IC decisions. Results aren't published. I expect many involved the agency giving ground. .

I've been critical generally and sometimes from personal experience of some IC decisions and of unacceptable delays, and concerned that few own motion investigations or compliance reviews have been undertaken. Much of the fault lies at the highest levels of government, where Attorney General Brandis is apparently still keen to bring the whole show down.

However the wild swings and low blows in the Waterford commentary aren't justified.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Privacy Commissioner not Australian Information Commissioner in the money?

I'd like to think Paul Farrell in The Guardian and others on social media are right that additional funding for the Office of Australian Information Commissioner in the Mid Year budget update for "Enhanced Welfare Payment Integrity — non-employment income data matching" until 2019 may signal the end of the long drawn out unsuccessful government attempt to close the office. 

The funds are earmarked for the privacy functions of the office. 

The Budget in May included funding for privacy functions and (reduced) funding for FOI functions in 2015-16 but nothing in forward estimates for the three years to follow.  The government plan is to scatter some functions around including packing the Privacy Commissioner off to the Australian Human Rights Commission if/when the abolition bill passes the Senate. The FOI oversight and review functions would be scrapped.

However another budget document revealed $4.2 million was allocated in the Budget over four years for the Privacy Commissioner to provide oversight of privacy implications arising from the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Act 2015 and the Counter‑Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fighters) Act 2014

The latest additional funding could pass as more of the same. That is money to accompany the Privacy Commissioner wherever he ends up.

Let's hope the funding decision indicates something else: That someone has joined the dots to see that standing firm (without majority support in the Senate to pass the bill) jars with the grander more recent government decision to embrace transparent, open government and to this end, proceed with membership of the Open Government Partnership. The decision requires endorsement of a declaration that includes a commitment 
to providing access to effective remedies when information or the corresponding records are improperly withheld, including through effective oversight of the recourse process.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Australian Open Government Partnership Network Update

The Australian Open Government Partnership Network has a Landing Page if you are interested in linking up with other civic minded democracy supporters and reformers. Help spread the word. A website and online Forum soon we hope.

The network is an independent coalition of individuals and organisations formed for the purpose of engaging with government in the development of Australia's OGP National Action Plan. The network will provide a forum for the exchange of information and ideas on areas for reform, seek to ensure the action plan is developed in the true spirit of partnership, and work to assist government in the determination of priorities for consideration.

A member of the Network Steering Committee and Co-founder of OpenAustralia Foundation Katherine (Kat) Szuminska has been invited to the annual civil society peer exchange meeting in The Hague, Netherlands in January for civil society leaders that are pivotal OGP actors at home.
The Government run information sessions commenced in Brisbane yesterday, and continue in Sydney this evening (look forward to seeing you there), Melbourne tomorrow and Canberra on Thursday. Meanwhile, hardly stopping for breath, the Government is rolling out the second stage of the consultation - through to the end of February. Don't rush, everyone in Canberra is about to down tools for a spell.

For your interest, maybe, my chat about the OGP with Jen Fleming on ABC Radio yesterday-at 1.49.00 in this recording (disappears in seven days).

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Media release: Australian Open Government Partnership Network

Network of civic citizens to engage on open government
 A national coalition of organisations and individuals is gearing up to respond to the Federal Government’s invitation to engage on issues concerning how to make government work better, focusing on transparency, open government, citizen participation and technological innovation.

The government has unveiled plans for wide ranging consultation over the next six months in the course of development of a National Action Plan to complete membership requirements of the Open Government Partnership. Information sessions are scheduled this week in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra.

Australia announced the intention to join the partnership in May 2013 but had not progressed the application until the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet last month released details of steps to finalise membership by July 2016.

This requires development in partnership with the public of a two year plan of concrete commitments for reform.

The Australian Open Government Partnership Network will bring together a wide range of civil society groups and individuals.

The Chair, former Queensland Integrity Commissioner David Solomon welcomed the announcement and the government’s commitment to the Open Government Declaration.

When Australia was invited to join in September 2011, the partnership had eight members including the United States, United Kingdom, Indonesia and Brazil.

 In 2015 sixty nine countries have completed or are in the process of completing membership requirements.

Dr Solomon said “ Australia has stood to the side while reformers elsewhere identified and acted upon plans to improve government and government engagement with the public.” We look forward to working with government now to catch up.”

The network will provide a forum for the exchange of information and ideas on areas for reform, seek to ensure the plan is developed in the true spirit of partnership, and work to assist government in the determination of priorities for consideration.

“Democracy is a defining feature of good government" Dr Solomon said.

“Listening, discussing and taking on board the thoughts and ideas of the citizenry is a vital element in making democracy work.”

Media Contact: Network Convener Peter Timmins-0413256777.
Organisations and individuals interested in the network-email website and forum coming soon.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

An independent network of supporters of Open Government Partnership?

Sorry for silence here for a week or so , but.. ...

I've been busy working towards a get together in Sydney on Friday 11 December of some of the organisations and individuals who wish to engage with the Federal government on issues concerning the Open Government Partnership, given consultation is about to start on development of a national action plan of reform measures around transparency, accountability, open government and citizen participation.

Experience in other OGP member countries, the UK for instance is that an independent network can play an important role in collaborating with and challenging government to develop and implement ambitious reforms through membership of the partnership. 

Not a great time of the year for getting people together at short notice, but  invitations have gone out and look forward to exchanging thoughts with those who can make it.

Organisations that have expressed interest in the independent network idea include

Accountability Roundtable

Australian Communications Consumer Action Network

Australian Council of Social Services

Blueprint for Free Speech

Civil Society Australia 

Code for Australia

Creative Commons Australia

Electronic Frontiers Australia

Independent Community Accountability Network

Internet Australia

Open Australia Foundation

Open Knowledge Australia

Public Interest Advocacy Center

Synod of Victoria and Tasmania Uniting Church of Australia

Transparency International Australia 

There are other irons in the fire and individuals who support the concept will of course be part of this.The priority at the moment is to see if we can put the foundations in place.

Email me if you would like to register an interest.

Government information sessions about the OGP and the national action plan consultations are scheduled next week in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. Get along if you can. I'll be at Sydney on Tuesday. 

Democracy is hard but worthwhile work. We can make a difference.


Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Open Government Partnership activity off and running

Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet
 If you haven't so far, look at the published material, subscribe to the OGP Au mailing list for updates and news or follow the OGP Au RSS feed

The department is interested in feedback by 11 December on the vision and framework  (Stage 1 Blog post) and on the draft Background material. Tweet to #ogpau.

Information sessions are scheduled in the week of 14-18 December in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra.The Canberra session will be broadcast live for online participation and video recordings of sessions will made available online where possible in the week following.

The information sessions are for citizens and organisations interested in understanding and potentially contributing to the process of creating Australia’s first 2-year OGP National Action Plan.

The sessions will provide a background on the Open Government Partnership, what Australia must do to fulfil its membership requirements, and how the community can work with the Australian Government to develop the National Action Plan collaboratively, including how the 6 month consultation will work.

There will be an opportunity for questions about Australia's OGP membership process and how individuals  and organisations can work constructively with the Australian Government throughout the consultation.
Details are:

Brisbane: 14 December from 4:00pm – 5:15pm (local time) - immediately prior to an Open Data Institute Queensland event, hence the timing and shortened session.
Sydney: 15 December from 5:00 – 6:30pm (local time)

Canberra: 16 December from 5:00 – 6:30pm (local time) LIVE STREAMED
To participate online register as a remote participant.

Melbourne: 17 December from 5:00 – 6:30pm (local time)

For more government information about OGP see the OGPau website 

Non government-civil society 
As the name indicates the Open Government Partnership is a partnership, a partnership between government and the citizenry to jointly explore how to make government better through initiatives to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance.
The experience of other countries well down the OGP path highlights the important role in support of non-government participation of a mechanism independent of government for those who wish to contribute to the development of the national action plan. All the more so as there is no formal mechanism such as a stakeholder forum or advisory committee in government plans so far.

So individuals and organisations that advocated Australia join the partnership are in the process of establishing an Australian Open Government Partnership Network along the lines of the UK model.  

The network would collaborate with and challenge government to develop and implement ambitious open government reforms through membership of the OGP.

Dr David Solomon, former Queensland Integrity Commissioner has agreed to take the Chair on an interim basis. I'm acting as convener of the group and we are hopeful of a first opportunity to talk through some of the issues in Sydney on 10 or 11 December.

Organisations that have to date expressed interest in being part of the network include  Transparency International Australia, Accountability Roundtable, Electronic Frontiers Australia, Open Australia Foundation, Open Knowledge Foundation, Tax Justice Network, Civil Society Australia, Australian Communications Consumer Action Network, and Internet Australia. I'm waiting to hear back from others.

Individuals will be invited to join once we have the nucleus of a network in place.

Those interested not on my radar so far please email me or call 0413256777.

Good luck to us all.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Government senators claim strong FOI record-don't mention the bill to abolish the Australian Information Commissioner

Debate in the Senate on Senator Ludwig's Private Member's Bill the Freedom of Information Amendment (Requests and Reasons) Bill 2015 resumed for an hour last Thursday and the bill is in the list again for 3 December. 

Speakers didn't add much to what was said in June, except that Senator Xenophon was the first cross bencher to speak in support. 

Government senators spoke in opposition to the bill so it won't get far in the House even if Labor, The Greens and six of eight cross benchers manage to get it through the Senate. 

Senator Seselja and Liberal and National Party speakers rolled out this sort of stuff before getting into the detail
I, along with the coalition government, support the Freedom of Information Act and support transparency in government. It is one of our country's greatest strengths that we ensure the decisions of government are put under scrutiny and, where possible, are out in the open. This government has a strong record over the last two years of making the small improvements to regulations and legislation necessary to make the operations of government simpler and more transparent
"Strong record", "small improvements", "regulations and legislation" ???? I'm struggling to remember chapter and verse.

None mentioned or sought to explain how the bill to abolish the Office of Australian Information Commissioner and the squeeze on funding while it sits (14 months and counting) in the Senate list squares with these fine sentiments.

Labor speakers and Senator Xenophon didn't miss the opportunity.

While government speakers could have used it to support their claim of serious intent regarding  transparency and accountability, word obviously hadn't reached them that the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet had announced Australia had recommitted to the Open Government Partnership. 

Senator Xenophon was in the dark as well urging the government:
To be a truly consultative and open government, as the Prime Minister said—and I take him at his word about his desire to do so—embrace the OGP; embrace reform to the FOI laws, such as the bill that Senator Ludwig has put up, which I think will lead to greater transparency and greater efficiency in FOI; and ensure there is appropriate funding for the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner.

The bill would require government agencies and Ministers to publish online the exact wording of freedom of information requests and the statement of reasons for the decision to allow or refuse release, and require information in released documents to be available for downloading from the web, a tightening of the current situation.

Attorney General Brandis is yet to speak, but if he gets to his feet to argue against the bill this week before the Senate adjourns for the year, an announcement that the government will pull the plug on the Freedom of Information Amendment (New Arrangements) Bill would soften some of the criticism of that claimed strong FOI record.

Monday, November 23, 2015

PM Turnbull needs to talk up new commitment to transparency, open government and citizen engagement

When Prime Minister Turnbull catches breath after the current round of international travel, and following the announcement by his department in his absence that Australia recommits to the Open Government Partnership, let's hope for public remarks in tune with those of President Obama in answering a question (see below) at a town hall gathering of young people in Malaysia on Friday.

The PM needs to invest more than a moment to boost visibility of this decision and the related consultation on a national action plan announced last week. The announcement has received attention in social media, on some government websites and in Delimiter, Crikey, The Mandarin and Eureka Street but Fairfax, News and other mainstream media are yet to find a story in this.
The Department gave itself until 11 December to spread awareness during the first of four stages in the development of a national action plan. If that timetable sticks, there's a need to get a wriggle on and get the boss on the job as well.

President Obama
I do believe that there are basic values that we all share.  And one of those values is that countries work best when everybody has a voice that can be respected, and that the press is able to report on what is happening in current affairs, and people can organize politically peacefully to try to bring about change, and that there’s transparency and accountability.  And when you look at which countries have done best in terms of development, typically over time, those countries that have some accountability and some measure of personal freedom tend to do better.  And those countries that don’t, have more problems

So whenever I meet in international forums, like APEC or AEAN, or whenever I meet with individual leaders, I try to encourage them to move more in the direction of transparency, accountability, to empower people so that they can participate in civil life.  And I always want to be honest with people whenever I talk to folks, that that doesn’t mean that we don’t do business with countries sometimes just because we have shared security interests or economic interests.  I have to meet with President Xi of China, even though I may not agree with the approach of his government towards human rights, because China is such a big country — and on something like climate change, if we don’t cooperate, then we won’t solve the problem.

There are occasions everywhere in the world where I will meet, and the United States has a relationship and cooperates with a country, even though their human rights record may not be good.  But I want to assure you that in all of those meetings, we always raise these issues.  And part of what we’re trying to do also is to create international support for these issues.

So one of the things that I did at the U.N., for example, was something call the Open Government Partnership.  And the idea behind the Open Government Partnership is that every country each year makes a pledge for what they’re going to do to make themselves more accountable, more open, more transparent, to root out corruption.  And not everybody starts out at the same place. But just by encouraging people to put out plans, even if they don’t always meet the plans right away, it raises the standards and the sights of people, and encourages people to aspire to improvements.

It’s just like democracy.  When we were hearing about Myanmar, and they talked about Indonesia as an example — well, Indonesia, when I was living there as a child, was not a democracy.  It was basically you had President Suharto and you had the military, and there weren’t elections every few years.
And it didn’t happen right away; the transition took some time.  But as long as we keep on encouraging that kind of change, I think we really can make a difference.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Names, signatures and initials of public servants-what's the FOI story?

Names of public servants carrying out usual functions- in the usual case not exempt.

Signatures of public servants-in the usual case exempt: unreasonable disclosure of personal information and on balance contrary to the public interest.

Initials of public servants and police officers?

Although it wasn't a major issue in the matter Acting Australian Information Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim in ‘HJ’ and Australian Federal Police [2015] AICmr 71 (6 November 2015) rejected argument that disclosure of the initials of officers appearing in a document would be unreasonable. The AFP argued the potential for identity fraud or forgery, and the fact that the author of the initials did not expect the material to be released under the FOI Act.
  1. The question of whether signatures of public servants are exempt under s 47F is an increasingly common theme in IC reviews. The Guidelines note at [6.140]:

Where public servants’ personal information is included in a document because of their usual duties or responsibilities, it would not be unreasonable to disclose unless special circumstances existed. This is because the information would reveal only that the public servant was performing their public duties. Such information may often also be publicly available, such as on an agency website.

  1. The AFP submitted that the release of staff signatures would increase the risk of identity theft or the falsification of instruments, given the powers held by AFP officers. It was also submitted that the relevant document was for internal use and because it was a professional standards form, the person would not have an expectation that their initials could be publicly released.
  2. Accepting these general submissions as to possible fraudulent use of the information would equate to me being satisfied that special circumstances exist only because the author of the initials is or was a member of the AFP.
  3. I have found that virtually all of the content of the relevant document is exempt and find no reason that would support the disclosure of the initials as unreasonable. I am not persuaded of the potential for identity fraud or forgery from the release of the initials.
  4. In my view, to accept the submission that the author of the initials did not expect the material to be released under the FOI Act and therefore release of the personal information would be unreasonable would be contrary to the objects of the FOI Act.
  5. Consistent with the decision in Stephen Waller and Department of Environment [2014] AICmr 133, and absent evidence of any special circumstances, I find that it would not be unreasonable to disclose the initials and the material is not exempt under s 47F. 
(Update: a reader has reminded me of this widespread practice across the public service in acknowledging receipt of an FOI application:
"It is the usual practice of the Department to not release the names and contact details of junior officers of the Department and other government agencies, where that personal information is contained in documents within scope of a request.  The names and contact details of senior officers will generally be released.  We will take it that you agree to the removal of junior officers’ personal information unless you advise that you would like us to consider releasing that information as part of the documents you have requested."

While it is somewhat cute, in the usual case I doubt this is of concern to the applicant. 

But it is more than cute when the 'junior officer' is senior enough to have carriage of a particular matter. In an FOI application eons ago about the snail like progress on Australian membership of the Open Government Partnership the Attorney General's Department deleted the names of 12 of 15 officials attending an interdepartmental meeting on the subject.

As I said at the time if they are senior enough to represent the department some accountabilty goes with the territory. 

Previous posts on this issue are here and here 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Attempt to abolish Office of Australian Commissioner is lead in the saddlebag as government commits to Open Government Partnership.

You can't imagine that the Abbott government initiated attempt, still ongoing after 18 months, to close out the Office of Australian Commissioner can stand for long in the Turnbull government's name as it commits to the Open Government Partnership. 

There are no bragging rights in that context for shutting down the independent advocate and watchdog for open government. Particularly when listing establishment of the office as a positive, a point picked up in today:

Australia commits to open government, sort of. More than two years after the former Labor government said it was going to join the Open Government Partnership, the Turnbull government has begun the process of finalising our membership. The OGP is a group of, so far, 69 countries that all agree to be more open, accountable and responsive to their citizens. To be a member you have to go through a two-year action plan. Australia’s plan will be drafted, with public consultation, over the next few months, ahead of a launch in July 2016. A website set up to detail Australia’s work to date curiously mentions the establishment of the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner -- which the government is trying to close -- in 2010 as one of its achievements.

Given that the only thing keeping the OAIC open right now is the fact the current government doesn’t have the numbers in the Senate to pass legislation abolishing it, and there has been no change in policy after Malcolm Turnbull became prime minister, it is confusing as to why this was included. Perhaps there is change afoot?
That change can't come soon enough and should see withdrawal of the bill and steps to put the OAIC back on stable footing. 

Without rushing ahead on content of the national action plan, a review of information access law, policy and procedures in light of experience to date and 21st century expectations and technological capabilities should be a candidate for inclusion. The advocacy, oversight and review role of the OAIC should be part of the equation.

Australia, Open Government Partnership and Declaration of Open Government

To join the OGP, countries must commit to uphold the principles of open and transparent government by endorsing the Open Government Declaration (below).  Through endorsing this Declaration, countries commit to “foster a global culture of open government that empowers and delivers for citizens, and advances the ideals of open and participatory 21st century government.”

Australia is required to send a letter endorsing the Declaration with the final approved national action plan.

September 2011
As members of the Open Government Partnership, committed to the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN Convention against Corruption, and other applicable international instruments related to human rights and good governance:

We acknowledge that people all around the world are demanding more openness in government. They are calling for greater civic participation in public affairs, and seeking ways to make their governments more transparent, responsive, accountable, and effective.

We recognize that countries are at different stages in their efforts to promote openness in government, and that each of us pursues an approach consistent with our national priorities and circumstances and the aspirations of our citizens.

We accept responsibility for seizing this moment to strengthen our commitments to promote transparency, fight corruption, empower citizens, and harness the power of new technologies to make government more effective and accountable.

We uphold the value of openness in our engagement with citizens to improve services, manage public resources, promote innovation, and create safer communities. We embrace principles of transparency and open government with a view toward achieving greater prosperity, well-being, and human dignity in our own countries and in an increasingly interconnected world.

Together, we declare our commitment to:

Increase the availability of information about governmental activities.
Governments collect and hold information on behalf of people, and citizens have a right to seek information about governmental activities. We commit to promoting increased access to information and disclosure about governmental activities at every level of government. We commit to increasing our efforts to systematically collect and publish data on government spending and performance for essential public services and activities. We commit to pro-actively provide high-value information, including raw data, in a timely manner, in formats that the public can easily locate, understand and use, and in formats that facilitate reuse. We commit to providing access to effective remedies when information or the corresponding records are improperly withheld, including through effective oversight of the recourse process. We recognize the importance of open standards to promote civil society access to public data, as well as to facilitate the interoperability of government information systems. We commit to seeking feedback from the public to identify the information of greatest value to them, and pledge to take such feedback into account to the maximum extent possible.

Support civic participation.
We value public participation of all people, equally and without discrimination, in decision making and policy formulation. Public engagement, including the full participation of women, increases the effectiveness of governments, which benefit from people’s knowledge, ideas and ability to provide oversight. We commit to making policy formulation and decision making more transparent, creating and using channels to solicit public feedback, and deepening public participation in developing, monitoring and evaluating government activities. We commit to protecting the ability of not-for-profit and civil society organizations to operate in ways consistent with our commitment to freedom of expression, association, and opinion. We commit to creating mechanisms to enable greater collaboration between governments and civil society organizations and businesses.

Implement the highest standards of professional integrity throughout our administrations.
Accountable government requires high ethical standards and codes of conduct for public officials. We commit to having robust anti-corruption policies, mechanisms and practices, ensuring transparency in the management of public finances and government purchasing, and strengthening the rule of law. We commit to maintaining or establishing a legal framework to make public information on the income and assets of national, high ranking public officials. We commit to enacting and implementing rules that protect whistleblowers. We commit to making information regarding the activities and effectiveness of our anticorruption prevention and enforcement bodies, as well as the procedures for recourse to such bodies, available to the public, respecting the confidentiality of specific law enforcement information. We commit to increasing deterrents against bribery and other forms of corruption in the public and private sectors, as well as to sharing information and expertise.

Increase access to new technologies for openness and accountability.
New technologies offer opportunities for information sharing, public participation, and collaboration. We intend to harness these technologies to make more information public in ways that enable people to both understand what their governments do and to influence decisions. We commit to developing accessible and secure online spaces as platforms for delivering services, engaging the public, and sharing information and ideas. We recognize that equitable and affordable access to technology is a challenge, and commit to seeking increased online and mobile connectivity, while also identifying and promoting the use of alternative mechanisms for civic engagement. We commit to engaging civil society and the business community to identify effective practices and innovative approaches for leveraging new technologies to empower people and promote transparency in government. We also recognize that increasing access to technology entails supporting the ability of governments and citizens to use it. We commit to supporting and developing the use of technological innovations by government employees and citizens alike. We also understand that technology is a complement, not a substitute, for clear, useable, and useful information.

We acknowledge that open government is a process that requires ongoing and sustained commitment. We commit to reporting publicly on actions undertaken to realize these principles, to consulting with the public on their implementation, and to updating our commitments in light of new challenges and opportunities.

We pledge to lead by example and contribute to advancing open government in other countries by sharing best practices and expertise and by undertaking the commitments expressed in this declaration on a non-binding, voluntary basis. Our goal is to foster innovation and spur progress, and not to define standards to be used as a precondition for cooperation or assistance or to rank countries. We stress the importance to the promotion of openness of a comprehensive approach and the availability of technical assistance to support capacity- and institution-building.

We commit to espouse these principles in our international engagement, and work to foster a global culture of open government that empowers and delivers for citizens, and advances the ideals of open and participatory 21st century government.

- See more at:

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Australia comes out of the dark to join the Open Government Partnership

Drum roll please:

 Open Government Partnership: Public consultation for the Australian Government’s National Action Plan now open

Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

Release date:

17th November 2015

The Australian Government has committed to joining the Open Government Partnership (OGP), a voluntary, global initiative that promotes transparency, empowers citizens, fights corruption, and harnesses new technologies to strengthen governance.

In line with this commitment a public consultation process commenced on 17 November 2015 to inform the drafting of the Australian Government’s National Action Plan as part of joining the OGP.

Members of the public are invited to contribute ideas and provide feedback on the framework for the Action Plan. The Action Plan is due to be submitted to the OGP Steering Committee by July 2016.

More information about the consultation phase and how to contribute can be found by visiting Open Government Partnership – Australia.

The OGP was founded by the governments of Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, the Philippines, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States in 2011. There are now 69 OGP member countries. The partnership is overseen by a Steering Committee that includes representatives from governments and civil society in member countries.
The Government is committed to openness as a basic principle of modern government and looks forward to your contributions to the Australian OGP National Action Plan.



G20 Anti-Corruption statement includes open data and public contracting principles

 From the G20 Leaders Communique, Turkey 15-16 November:
16.In support of our growth and resilience agenda, we remain committed to building a global culture of intolerance towards corruption through effectively implementing the 2015-2016 G20 Anti-Corruption Action Plan. We endorse the G20 High-Level Principles on Integrity and Transparency in the Private Sector which will help our companies comply with global standards on ethics and anti-corruption. Ensuring the integrity and transparency of our public sectors is essential. In this regard, we endorse the G20 Anti-Corruption Open Data Principles and the G20 Principles for Promoting Integrity in Public Procurement, and we welcome the ongoing work on asset disclosure frameworks. We will further work to strengthen international cooperation, including where appropriate and consistent with domestic legal systems, on civil and administrative procedures, as an important tool to effectively combat bribery and to support asset recovery and the denial of safe haven to corrupt officials and those who corrupt them. We welcome the publication of our Implementation Plans on beneficial ownership transparency and will continue our efforts in this regard.
The Agreed Documents that accompany the Communique include

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

PM Turnbull on the road-an opportunity to stand with the Open Government Partnership

Three weeks of international visits and meetings between 12 November and 1 December will see Prime Minister Turnbull engage with many leaders who attach importance to improving democratic practices, and who back this up with a commitment to the Open Government Partnership. 

The OGP links close to 70 countries in "a multi- stakeholder initiative focused on improving government transparency, accountability and responsiveness to citizens. OGP brings together government and civil society champions of reform who recognize that governments are much more likely to be effective and credible if they open their doors to public input and oversight."

Sounds right up the Turnbull government alley given the Prime Minister's commitment to open consultative government and his ambition that Australia "should aim to become the world's leading digital economy."

The PM may not need much help in translating these enthusiasms into something to say or ascribe to on the international stage. 

But as a prompt, public servants and advisers in Canberra hopefully have ensured the briefing book includes something more positive and meaningful than the Abbott government line maintained for two years, that membership of the OGP is 'under consideration.' 

'Considering' has gone on for four years in total since the invitation to join as a founding member in September 2011. It has been marked by a notice of intention to join in May 2013, but no movement since. 

An announcement of Australia's re-commitment at any number of stops along the PM's way would be timely and welcome at home and abroad.

The PM will visit Indonesia,Turkey (G20), Germany, the Philippines (APEC), Malaysia (East Asia Summit), Malta (CHOGM) and France (UNFCCC COP21)

OGP connections

Implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals will be a topic at most of these meetings and in bilateral discussions.

Around 30 countries so far have signed a joint declaration committing to use the OGP to help carry out the goals through national action plans. Goal 16 calls for building “effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions at all levels.” As Helen Clark of the UNDP said in Mexico City recently: 
Agreement on Goal 16 by world leaders resonates with the call by millions of citizens around the world who, when they were asked what they wanted included in the new goals, answered “honest and responsive government”. Goal 16 is also a natural fit with the objectives of the OGP. Its targets include:
promoting the rule of law at the national and international levels, and ensuring equal access to justice,
. substantially reducing corruption and bribery in all their forms,
• developing effective, accountable, and transparent institutions,
• ensuring responsive, inclusive, participatory, and representative decision making, and
• ensuring public access to information and the protection of fundamental freedoms.
Transparency and integrity will crop up as issues in a variety of circumstances. 
 Last year at the G20 in Brisbane for example the 2015-16 G20 Anti Corruption Plan (pdf), an "agreed document" that supported the Communique issued at conclusion of the Leaders' Summit included a section 'Public sector transparency and integrity.'

"G20 countries commit to leading by example in ensuring our government agencies, policies, and officials implement international best practices for public sector transparency and integrity.  The (Anti Corruption Working Group) has identified public procurement, open data, whistleblower protections, immunities for public officials, fiscal and budget transparency, and standards for public officials as issues which merit particular attention."
OGP national action plans are a means of advancing this agenda. 

Anti -corruption will be an associated discussion point as well. Transparency International "aspires to work globally, regionally and nationally to help the OGP achieve its mission." TI recently urged Australia to join.

The PM will bend a few ears during his travels about his government initiatives in embracing open data and the digital economy.The movers and shakers in this field- all nine countries ranked above Australia (10th) in the World Wide Web Foundation Open Government Index 2015-UK, US, Sweden, France, New Zealand, Netherlands, Canada, Norway and Denmark- are OGP members as are other digital 'go aheads' Estonia and Israel. Australia by joining the OGP stands to learn and contribute.

The OGP matters for other reasons. Australian membership was included in former DFAT Secretary Dick Woolcott's list of ideas for fine tuning Australian foreign policy.

Indonesia the PM's first port of call is a two term former co-chair of the OGP and with the Asian Development Bank and other donors has played an important regional role in encouraging government and civil society in countries such as Cambodia, Malaysia and Myanmar to take steps in the right direction.The Asia Pacific region is under represented in the OGP despite good recent news from Papua New Guinea and Sri Lanka. Australia should stand in the region with these newcomers and Indonesia, the Philippines, Korea and Azerbaijan in promoting open transparent and accountable government and citizen participation in government affairs.

OGP member countries participating in multilateral events on the PM's calendar are

The OGP at G20 
Turkey the host, and Argentina, Brazil, Canada, France (Co-Chair)  Indonesia, Italy,  Republic of Korea, Mexico, South Africa (Co-Chair), United Kingdom and United States.

The Philippines the host, and Canada, Chile, Indonesia, Republic of Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru and United States. Papua New Guinea has just announced its intention to join.

The OGP at East Asia Summit

Indonesia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Republic of Korea and United States. (Non members are Brunei, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Laos, Myanmar, Malaysia, Russia, Singapore,Thailand and Vietnam-hence the need for some regional encouragement.)

Malta the host, and Canada, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, New Zealand, South Africa, Tanzania, Trinidad and Tobago, and United Kingdom. Papua New Guinea and Sri Lanka have announced their intention to join. 

France the host (OGP Co-Chair), plus all those listed here-Australia sitting on the fence.

Travel well PM, talk up the importance of improving democratic practices. 

And put Australia to the test.

AzerbaijaThe OGP at the G20Turkey, the host, and Argentina, Canada, Italy, Indonesia, France (OGP Co-Chair) Mexico, South Africa (OGP Co-Chair), United States, Brazil, Republic of Korea and United Kingdom.