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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.

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