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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Australia's support for democratic values on display in New York next week

The government's participation or non participation at two high level meetings in New York next week will be an indicator of the importance it attaches to support for democratic values and matching words with actions.

No, not talking about the Prime Minister participating on 24-25 September in a meeting of the UN Security Council convened by US President Obama to address the threat posed by foreign terrorist fighters, delivering Australia’s national statement at the General Assembly, or meetings with key leaders ahead of the G20 meeting in Brisbane.

Or talking about the Climate Summit on 23 September the day before he arrives when Foreign Minister Bishop will be in Australia's seat as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomes 125 heads of state and government or deputies.

No, talking about two other high level meetings that the likes of President Obama, President Yudhoyono and other heads of government and senior ministers think important enough to squeeze in while they are in New York - meetings about support for civil society and for open, transparent and accountable government.

Where will Australia stand?

With civil society?
On 23 September at the Clinton Global Initiative, President Obama will reconvene partners to advance the Stand with Civil Society agenda. The State Department describes the forum this year as providing "a platform for partners to take stock of progress made to date, define a strategy for the next year, and make commitments that will have a lasting impact on the future of civil society."

It follows a meeting a year ago where President Obama brought together government and   philanthropic leaders to launch the agenda, 
"a groundbreaking effort to support, defend and sustain the work of civil society amid a rising tide of restrictions on its work. Together with the philanthropic community and working through existing initiatives and partnerships including the Open Government Partnership (OGP), the Community of Democracies, Lifeline, and Making All Voices Count, participants agreed to collaborate to: (1) promote laws, policies, and practices that foster a supportive environment for civil society in accordance with international norms; (2) coordinate multilateral, diplomatic pressure to roll back restrictions being imposed on civil society; and (3) identify innovative ways of providing technical, financial, and logistical support to civil society. 
Australia was there last year, the government signing on to this joint statement issued by the White House at the time. 

No reply so far to my email to DFAT about Australian representation.
(Update: A Yes on this one: Although it is not mentioned in the Media Release outlining her schedule in New York I have been informed the Foreign Minister will attend the Clinton Global Initiative event as part of her visit.) 

With the Open Government Partnership?
On 24 September President Yudhoyono of Indonesia and President Peña Nieto of Mexico will chair a meeting at UN headquarters, “Open Government Partnership: Citizen Action, Responsive Government." The gathering will celebrate the third anniversary of the OGP.

Seven other heads of state or government (so far) are listed as speakers to government and civil society represenatives of the 64 countries that have joined or are in the process of joining the partnership, including President Obama, the presidents of South Africa, Tanzania and Croatia and the prime ministers of Georgia and Norway.

President Yudhoyono has sent an invitation to Prime Minister Abbott to attend.
This follows his invitation to the PM to attend the Asia Pacific Regional OGP meeting in Bali in May. The PM said he was unable to accept on that occasion because of Budget preparations. 

At that meeting President Yuhoyono noted that Asia-Pacific countries are under represented in the OGP and called on others in the region to join.
Australia has mostly dithered since first invited to join the OGP in September 2011. The previous government indicated intention to join in May 2013.

The latest public statement by Finance Minister Cormann is we are still 'considering.'
Participation in the meeting would confirm Australia stands with Indonesia, Korea, the US, UK, Canada, New Zealand and other OGP members for open, transparent and accountable government that encourages and empowers citizens and is responsive to their aspirations. 

No reply to my email to the PM, Foreign Minister, Minister for Finance and local member Malcolm Turnbull about the invitation from President Yudhoyono.

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