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Monday, March 02, 2015

Australia 'positively inclined' to join Open Government Partnership but wait, more consideration needed

On the one hand it was heartening that Minister for Finance Cormann told Senate Estimates last week that the government is "positively inclined" to join the Open Government Partnership

On the other, somewhat disheartening that public servants are still "going through all of the considerations that need to be gone through before we make a final decision." 

With no end in sight apparently, Minister Cormann adding the "government will form a view as soon as possible and will take as long as necessary."

Australia was invited to join the OGP, the "international platform for domestic reformers committed to making their governments more open, accountable, and responsive to citizens" in August 2011. Sixty four other governments have joined or are in the process of doing so. Just the ticket for those interested in good government you would think.

It took the Rudd-Gillard governments 21 months to reach the decision in May 2013 to lodge a notice of intention to join the OGP. 

The Abbott government has now spent 17 months since coming to office 'considering' whether to proceed or not proceed to membership. 

Last November the committee was told Finance was doing 'quite a lot of work' on a national action plan (notably,without talking to anyone outside government about it) for completion in December.  

The Department wasn't forthcoming with a copy of whatever they were working on at that time and is yet to respond (meaningfully) to this specific request for the action plan or draft.

Back in November the OGP Support Unit, working on the reasonable assumption that Australia was committed to membership as a result of the May 2013 notice and presumably not having been informed otherwise, wrote to Finance (pdf) advising that the government has "acted contrary to the OGP process for this cycle of action plan development" in failing to lodge a national action plan by July last year. 

We don't know whether their request for clarification "in the near future" on Australia's participation yielded more or something different from what the committee was told last week.
At the estimates hearing Senator Lundy switched after three questions about the OGP to another topic, the announcement in January by the Prime Minister and Minister Turnbull about the establishment of the Digital Transformation Office. 

Secretary Halton told the committee the detail including what functions will transfer from Finance to Communications as a result is under 'active discussion.' (In Yes Minister speak I think this is a notch above the 'under consideration' tag attached to the OGP file. Sir Humphrey once explained one meant 'we've lost the file' the other 'we're trying to find it.')

Open data apparently is somewhere in the mix.

That draft OGP national action plan according to Finance "will take into account the Government’s e-government and digital economy agenda." Maybe Communications will end up with some OGP related functions if the positive inclination to join translates into a decision to do so.

There are no funds for the office in Communications Additional Estimates 2014-15.

However Secretary Halton told the committee it's all to happen as soon as possible.
So's a decision on the OGP according to the minister.

We live in hope.

The discussion of the OGP and the DTO at the committee hearing follows.

Senator LUNDY: Can we move now to open government partnerships to continue that conversation. I do not have the previous Hansard with me, but perhaps you could update the committee on those conversations.
Mr Sheridan : The government is still considering its position in joining the open government partnership.
Senator LUNDY: That has been going on for a while. Is that the perpetual state of affairs? Minister, perhaps I should ask you.
Senator Cormann: To be fair, over six years of the previous government you did not make a formal decision to join. Only at the tail end of your period in government did you initiate the more formal consideration. The government will form a view as soon as possible and will take as long as necessary.
Senator LUNDY: I will not waste any time on that. I think that last time I heard you say, Minister, that it was the government's intention to keep exploring, but you were not able to give us anything more than that?
Senator Cormann: We are positively inclined, but we are obviously going through all of the considerations that need to be gone through before we make a final decision. As I have indicated, we will do it as quickly as possible and take the time necessary.
Senator LUNDY: There was a release on the Digital Transformation Office that went out not so long ago from the Prime Minister and Minister Turnbull. What is the Department of Finance's participation in that initiative, given your role in procurement of ICT?
Ms Halton : I think the press release was quite clear in terms of the government's intention. We were part of the group of departments that came together to give integrated advice to the government about the need to have a whole-of-government focus from an IT and particularly from a customer facing perspective. We are in the process of working through exactly which of our functions would move into that environment. As you would be aware, procurement, particularly with whole-of-government procurement, it is our understanding we will retain as a function. Those are our functions, but there are some things on the boundary that we are working through with them at the moment.
Senator LUNDY: What is the timeframe for making that land?
Ms Halton : As soon as possible. They have quite a large agenda in front of them. I have had several looks at what I would describe as our view on this, and we are in active discussion.

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