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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Prime Minister gives Indonesia thumbs down on OGP twice in four months

The Prime Minister plans to 'shirt front' President Putin at the G 20 meeting next month but when it comes to the Open Government Partnership, well, we just don't front.

Prime Minister Abbott twice knocked back invitations from Indonesian President Yudhoyono to attend OGP events this year.

First to the Bali Asia Pacific Regional Conference in May, when he was busy with budget preparations, but we did manage to send an official from Finance.

And then last month to the High Level Meeting in New York, this time with no mention publicly of the invitation or why he or Foreign Minister Bishop, both there on 25 September, or someone senior from the accompanying party or from our UN Mission couldn't join ten heads of state/government, more than 30 ministers and hundreds of others who managed to find the time.

The Prime Minister is off to the inauguration of the new president in Jakarta next week.

President Yuhoyono got nowhere in seeking visible support for the OGP from Australia, valuable in itself, but also as encouragement for strengthening democratic institutions throughout the region. 

President elect Joko Widodo seems similarly committed to the cause. But on form to date the OGP seems unlikely to rate a mention in PM Abbott's briefing book for the visit.

While nothing has been said publicly to explain the government's position it seems that somewhere close to the highest level of government there may be opposition to proceeding to membership of the OGP as a matter of principle or perhaps because of the perceived difficulty of reconciling a membership application with the government's position on a number of fronts here at home. 

The OGP is a platform for reformers, governments interested in the social and economic benefits of open government and in improving governance and public participation and fighting corruption through enhanced transparency and accountability. And who recognise that the task is best undertaken in partnership with civil society.

At some point the OGP Support Unit or the Steering Committee now chaired by Mexico and South Africa will raise the question where Australia stands, with the Dreyfus letter of intent of May 2013 still on the public record.

Russia is the only government to withdraw from the OGP to date. Sixty four other governments have signed up or are in the process of doing so. Here's one enthusiast who found time to say a few words to the New York gathering.

Incredibly ironic in the circumstances if Russia and Australia both shirt front the OGP, chorusing "nyet, spaseeba.” 

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