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Monday, November 23, 2015

PM Turnbull needs to talk up new commitment to transparency, open government and citizen engagement

When Prime Minister Turnbull catches breath after the current round of international travel, and following the announcement by his department in his absence that Australia recommits to the Open Government Partnership, let's hope for public remarks in tune with those of President Obama in answering a question (see below) at a town hall gathering of young people in Malaysia on Friday.

The PM needs to invest more than a moment to boost visibility of this decision and the related consultation on a national action plan announced last week. The announcement has received attention in social media, on some government websites and in Delimiter, Crikey, The Mandarin and Eureka Street but Fairfax, News and other mainstream media are yet to find a story in this.
The Department gave itself until 11 December to spread awareness during the first of four stages in the development of a national action plan. If that timetable sticks, there's a need to get a wriggle on and get the boss on the job as well.

President Obama
I do believe that there are basic values that we all share.  And one of those values is that countries work best when everybody has a voice that can be respected, and that the press is able to report on what is happening in current affairs, and people can organize politically peacefully to try to bring about change, and that there’s transparency and accountability.  And when you look at which countries have done best in terms of development, typically over time, those countries that have some accountability and some measure of personal freedom tend to do better.  And those countries that don’t, have more problems

So whenever I meet in international forums, like APEC or AEAN, or whenever I meet with individual leaders, I try to encourage them to move more in the direction of transparency, accountability, to empower people so that they can participate in civil life.  And I always want to be honest with people whenever I talk to folks, that that doesn’t mean that we don’t do business with countries sometimes just because we have shared security interests or economic interests.  I have to meet with President Xi of China, even though I may not agree with the approach of his government towards human rights, because China is such a big country — and on something like climate change, if we don’t cooperate, then we won’t solve the problem.

There are occasions everywhere in the world where I will meet, and the United States has a relationship and cooperates with a country, even though their human rights record may not be good.  But I want to assure you that in all of those meetings, we always raise these issues.  And part of what we’re trying to do also is to create international support for these issues.

So one of the things that I did at the U.N., for example, was something call the Open Government Partnership.  And the idea behind the Open Government Partnership is that every country each year makes a pledge for what they’re going to do to make themselves more accountable, more open, more transparent, to root out corruption.  And not everybody starts out at the same place. But just by encouraging people to put out plans, even if they don’t always meet the plans right away, it raises the standards and the sights of people, and encourages people to aspire to improvements.

It’s just like democracy.  When we were hearing about Myanmar, and they talked about Indonesia as an example — well, Indonesia, when I was living there as a child, was not a democracy.  It was basically you had President Suharto and you had the military, and there weren’t elections every few years.
And it didn’t happen right away; the transition took some time.  But as long as we keep on encouraging that kind of change, I think we really can make a difference.

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