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Monday, October 26, 2015

A simple step for Australia to come out of the Open Government Partnership naughty corner

With one day until the Global Summit gets underway in Mexico City, Canberra maintains silence in response to the request in July that Australia indicate its intentions by this time.

Distinguished former Australian diplomat Richard Woolcott is the latest to call on the government to sign on. On the Lowy Institute Interpreter Woolcott lists eight ideas for fine tuning foreign policy in the Turnbull era including:
"Another positive change which Prime Minister Turnbull could make as soon as possible would be to sign up to the Open Government Partnership. Nearly 70 countries, including Indonesia, New Zealand, the Philippines, the US and the UK have already done so. Mr Turnbull has said he wants to have a more transparent and open government. Joining would reinforce his comments."
Meanwhile Toby McIntosh in Washington notes that dealing with the few difficult members poses problems for an organisation that is guided by a steering committee consisting of government and civil society representatives. Particularly in dealing with complaints from civil society in a member country about a government clamp down. 

And closer to home, complaints about failure by a member government to live up to its OGP commitments:
"When countries have missed deadlines, the OGP has occasionally, and as a last resort, issued public warnings about the need to get back on track, usually with good effect. One member, Australia, has done virtually nothing. This caused the Steering Committee in July to set a deadline of next week for Australia to recommit. (See report.) Australia, joined up under a liberal leader, but left its membership card in the wallet under a conservative government. A recent change in governments back to the liberal persuasion may trigger recommittal, but no official word has emerged."
The OGP aim overall has been to keep members and intending members inside the tent to the extent possible with a liberal interpretation and application of the rules. Australia got to first base in May 2013 with its notice of intention to join. Followed by two and a half years and counting of considering and reconsidering while deadlines for next steps passed.

A recommitment to the OGP should be a walk up for a 21st Century government led by a prime minister who not only wants his government to be more open and consultative but has said Australia "should aim to become the world's leading digital economy....." 
And that we intend to reach out globally to collaborate with the world’s best.

Now's the time to reach out and link up with the 66 countries in the OGP.  

Let's do it, at the same time eliminating that stain on our credentials, the plan announced in the infamous 2014 budget and still stuck in the Senate to abolish the Office of Australian Information Commissioner

McIntosh points to powers that could be exercised if and when patience finally runs out:
The OGP Articles of Governance provide a mechanism for suspension in the event of repeated missed deadlines. The OGP Steering Committee 2014 adopted a policy under which two warnings in a row would trigger a discussion about continued OGP membership. (See previous report.) The policy states:
Should the Support Unit or IRM process find that a participating government repeatedly (for two consecutive action plan cycles) acts contrary to OGP process or its Action Plan commitments (addenda B and C), and fails to adequately address issues raised by the IRM, the SC may upon recommendation of the Criteria and Standards (CS) sub-committee review the participation of said government in OGP.

I'm sure it won't come to that or an Australian walk in the footsteps of Russia, the only country to sign on and then think better of it.

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