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Friday, November 08, 2013

'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.

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