The aim of this event was to raise public awareness and encourage participation in Australia’s membership of the Open Government Partnership (OGP), executed through Australia’s multi-stakeholder forum, the Open Government Forum (OGF).
The event was a partnership between ART, Transparency International Australia and the OGP, taking advantage of the visit by Dr Sanjay Pradhan, CEO of the OGP and the inaugural meeting of the new membership of the OGF (17 April)
Dr Pradhan was the lead speaker, followed by OGF Government Co-Chair (Simon Newnham) and OGF Civil Society Co-Chair (Kate Auty), and then questions and comments (Q&A).
There was a live audience and the event was live-streamed, video-recorded, electronically transcribed and manually edited. The event was conducted on Tuesday 18 th April 2023, at the Drill Hall, 26 Therry Street, Melbourne, Australia.
Moderator (Lyn Allison) Thank you, everybody, for coming along. A very warm welcome. I will start by acknowledging that we meet on country and to pay our respects to the traditional owners, the Wurundjeri people and elders past and present, and acknowledge that the land was never ceded.
And please vote for the Voice.
We are delighted that so many people have turned out for this important conversation.
We have put together for you an excellent and very distinguished panel which will be able to steer us in the right direction.
We are very fortunate to have with us Dr. Sanjay Pradhan, CEO of the International Open Government Partnership.
Sanjay is a spokesperson for the OGP, which is a partnership of 76 countries and 106 local governments, together representing more than 2 billion people. He leads OGP’s dialog with heads of state, ministers and civil society organizations.
The OGP is an international agreement that obliges members member democracies, rather, to tackle corruption, open up government information and engage the public in making policy.
Australia signed on to the OGP in 2015, but little of consequence has been delivered so far and our nation is still riddled with secrecy. Australia is required to develop its third action plan and we are here to help! The whole point of this evening is to engage citizens in the process of changing the mindset of governments, of keeping information from you.
I would also like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of this land and paying my respects to their elders, past, present and emerging. It is truly an honour and a great pleasure for me to be back here in Melbourne.
I have travelled long and far because we are very enthused about the prospects of a revival of OGP in Australia and what it can do to deliver more domestically and internationally.
And I’ll explain that a bit more. But first, just to sketch an international perspective, internationally, we confront unprecedented threats to democracy.
Today, Freedom House reports 15 consecutive years of decline in democracy and civil liberties. An astonishing two thirds of the world’s population today live in countries that are non-democratic or where democracy is backsliding.
We are witnessing a menacing rise of authoritarian leaders undermining democracy across borders.
I’m sure you experienced this here and elsewhere in the region and of this Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is only the most visible and egregious manifestation as we join forces against these external threats. We must also firmly tackle internal threats to democracy that are stemming from plummeting citizens’ trust in government, as measured by the Edelman Barometer. If you look at the Edelman barometer inside too many countries citizens perceive their governments to be disconnected and unresponsive to their needs or corrupt and captured by special interests. And it is this citizen distrust that populist leaders have been stoking to rise to power, spread disinformation and then undermine democratic institutions.
But over the same period, OGP, the Open Government Partnership has grown into a major global platform.
I’m going to assume, perhaps wrongly, that there are several of you or some of you in this audience that may understandably and rightly not know much about OGP, the Open Government Partnership. So I’ll give you a very quick introduction.
OGP was launched at the United Nations in 2011. In just 11 years It has grown really quickly. It is one of the fastest growing multilaterals.
In just 11 years, 75 countries, over 100 local governments and thousands of civil society organizations have joined our partnership. Australia is clearly one of the members, as Lyn mentioned. Now, the goal of OGP, as articulated by one of our founders, which was former US President Obama, was to ensure that governments truly serve their citizens rather than themselves.
And the mechanism to do this was to have government reformers work with civil society leaders such as the multi-stakeholder forum right here that’s going to be co-chaired by Kate and Simon. They co-create the reforms concrete reforms and published action plans to make governments more transparent, participatory, inclusive and accountable to citizens.
Now, in just 11 years, government and civil society have together co-created and implemented over 500 reforms in across the partnership.
And amongst these, some of these are not like something I would want to really hail as really remarkable. But there is about 20 to 30% of these which are truly measured as being transformational.
And through this and there’s an independent verification of ambition in OGP, it’s called the independent reporting mechanism.
And through this, through these action plans and these reform commitments, courageous OGP reformers and activists across countries are pushing back against the rise of authoritarianism.
And they are renewing democracy. They are renewing democracy through four clusters of reforms that may be of interest to Australia as it revamps its own OGP process.
So I’ll just give you a sprinkling of what your peers across OGP countries are doing.
The first cluster of reforms that they are advancing is to open up opaque public institutions to build citizens trust and fight corruption.
So for example, 30 OGP countries such as Slovakia and the U.K. are publishing registers to end anonymous companies, anonymous companies that stash illicit wealth, launder money, evade taxes, and prop up autocrats behind shell companies that are undermining democracy across borders. Australia has an emerging commitment, as we’ve heard from the announcement of the government, on beneficial ownership transparency, which is what this represents.
Twenty OGP members – Ethiopia, members such as Chile, Ireland and Madrid are advancing lobbying, transparency through a register, through its citizens, can monitor meetings and gifts between lobbyists and public officials.
This was of great interest in New Zealand, where I’ve just come from.
And if you’re following the news in New Zealand, there was a major scandal involving a cabinet minister who had to resign because of links with the lobbyists.
Australia can inspire the rest of the partnership through what I have heard and read about the new Government’s commitment for transparency in political donations.
There are some with deep countries like Ghana and Georgia that have been advancing this, but Australia can play a very important leadership role.
So this is the first cluster of reforms to open up opaque institutions to fight corruption and build citizen trust.
The second of the four clusters is empowering citizens, as Lyn said, to participate, to shape policies, public policies that impact their lives.
And let me give you an example. In an area which is of great importance.
The way I hear it in terms of the priority of this government, which is climate.
So in climate, through its OGP action plan, France convened a citizen, a citizen convention on Climate Change.
And through its OGP Action Plan is strengthening the participation of citizens in forming meeting its energy and climate strategy.
I’ll take you to another part of the world. Panama and Ecuador are enhancing citizens participation in climate decision making with a focus on protecting those that are most vulnerable to climate change. Empowering those environmental activists and protecting their rights and giving lead legal redress against climate harms across OGP citizens assemblies are taking place and citizens assemblies forge shared solutions on very contentious policies.
You see, one of the problems across our democracies is increasing polarization, isn’t it?
We are deeply polarized across ideology, across contentious policy issues.
Citizens assemblies convene different ideologies of citizenry to forge shared solutions and present them, let’s say to parliament and government.
And so, we are seeing citizen assemblies across OGP countries, for instance, on same sex marriage in Ireland or climate change in Scotland.
And right here next door in New Zealand, they are doing a treaty-based climate citizen assembly with the Māori tribe.
So this is just to give you an example of the kinds of things that are happening in your countries in the second cluster, which is empowering citizens that builds that trust.
The third cluster of reforms is to tackle systemic inequalities, empower historically marginalized groups. I was really heartened and really inspired. to see the commitment, for instance, of this government to commence a process to enshrine Indigenous voice in Parliament across the OGP.
If I take you to another part of the world, Costa Rica had a problem with historically marginalized Indigenous community and lot of violence over their use of their lands. The Ojibwe process, in part through the Ojibwe process, a reformist vice minister worked with cities with civil society.
Groups of this indigenous community brought them to an equal seat at the table through the OGP co-creation process.
That bringing to the same table build trust, abated conflict and assured vital investments in health and education.
The other area I’ve seen some pronouncements here is on empowering women, which is a really important issue emerging issue in OGP under Prime Minister Trudeau, who was the Chair in 2019, Inclusion and women’s empowerment became a really important priority.
We created a whole global campaign around this.
And so, Germany, for instance, has used OGP to monitor and strengthen women in leadership positions.
Mexico is targeting the gender wage gap between the cities. Argentina a Catholic – country is empowering women with information on sexual and reproductive health services.
So just to give you an example of this area, the fourth area in the final cluster is on tackling threats to democracy.
And the threats to democracy are many. But I’ll just give you two examples.
One is attacks on civil liberties. We take freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of assembly to be we take it for granted.
There are over 100 countries where these basic civil liberties are under attack, and it’s including in several OGP countries.
I don’t sugar-coat anything that’s happening in OGP countries. So now we do have some countries that are fighting back that are protecting and expanding civic space.
South Korea, if you’ve been to South Korea, I was just there two weeks ago. It’s really inspirational Gwang Hwa Moon Square where, you know, millions went in candlelight protest to bring down a corrupt regime of President Park, earlier.
The then new President Moon came to power. He invited the protesting millions back to the Moon square and said, now tell me, what are your problems?
Let’s co-create solutions.
If you’ve been to Seoul, you will see places which are designated for citizen protest. They protest all the time. And now, using OGP, South Korea has made commitments. to expand and protect civic protections.
Nigeria, after the EndSARS protests against police brutality, used OGP to create better dialog and oversight between communities and the police, which was seen to be added. That’s one civic space. The other threat that’s coming, as we know, is digital threats to democracy, which comes from illegal surveillance and disinformation and illegal surveillance, just to take you to Mexico, where there was illegal surveillance of civil society organizations, there was using OGP, there was a commitment to have democratic oversight on the acquisition and use of digital surveillance technology.
It was promising, but then the government went back.
Then on disinformation Canada, for instance, is using ODP to strengthen transparency of online political campaigns.
That’s a big trend in EU countries as well.
France is using OGP to strengthen, to improve the transparency of algorithmic decision making.
So I just walked you through taking you through a journey around the world, across four clusters of reforms which reformers, innovative and courageous reformers and activists are undertaking to renew democracy at a time when democracy is under threat.
If you reflect on what these reforms are, they’re all empowering. citizens to shape and oversee government contracts, government budgets, company ownership, climate policy, empowering the weakest in society, or those historically marginalized.
These are reforms to empower citizens to oversee their governments everyday, not just once in a few years, when we typically cast a vote in democracy that is why we call open government “democracy beyond the ballot box”.
This is everyday democracy that we are trying to institute. otherwise we get disenchanted with government, we vote and we are not engaged.
And then distrust blends in. We need to scale up these reforms worldwide as bulwarks for our democratic institutions under attack.
And this call to scale up these reforms and to forge a coalition is the call to action.
Heading into our next global summit. – we have a global summit every two years – the next global summit will be in September, hosted by the very impressive Estonian Prime Minister Kallas, who’s on the forefront of the war off the ball and she’s going to be hosting a global summit.
And we invite each and every one of you most warmly. It’s on September 6 and 7. Online registration is open.
So, a final set of thoughts is that in this coalition, in this what we are seeking to do in the global summit more broadly in OGP: we are seeking to forge a stronger coalition of nations and leaders who are renewing democracy and forging a counter-vailing force against the rise of authoritarian leaders.
Australia must absolutely be a visible leader in this coalition. The new Albanese Government’s reform agenda is truly impressive as it has been announced.
I urge the Government to really pursue and implement this with great vigour. An ambitious action plan, at least from what we see.
We see the National Anti-Corruption Commission has already been announced.
We see a commitment to beneficial ownership transparency, which I talked about.
We see a commitment to transparency in political donations.
We see a commitment to truth in political advertising.
We see a commitment to enshrining Indigenous voice in Parliament.
And I could go on – the list is really quite impressive.
And the OGP process can be a really good way to bring them inside the action plan, because when you bring them inside the action plan, you actually activate the Australian community to be a partner in the co-creation shaping, monitoring and implementation of this action plan.
So we have great hopes for the multi-sector forum co-chaired by Kate and Simon, the Civil society and Government. We are ready to support you. We urge you to expand and broaden input from citizenry and from broader government agency.
And we can tell you one thing we’ve completed ten years of a year and a half ago, and we are a very data driven institution because all these action plans, 5000, we have independent evaluations. So we have literally a data mine of things.
We looked at ten years, and the most robust statistical finding is when government creates these action plans with civil society through the multi-stakeholder forum. When that collaboration is robust, the action plans are more ambitious, and the results are stronger.
So we have great hopes that this action plan will be Australia’s most ambitious and it will then give it the legitimacy to be the international leader in open government, which is why I have travelled long in SA.
So let me close by saying that we are seeking to ignite more and more amidst the gloom and doom of war and rise of authoritarianism.
We are seeking to ignite more and more bright lights of democracy and openness in today’s world.
I hope you will all accept our invitation for Australia to shine a bright light in our partnership and travel with us as we seek to renew democracy here and around the world.
Thank you so much.
Our next speaker on the panel is Simon Newnham, He is Deputy Secretary of the Integrity and International Group in the Attorney-General’s Department, and he’s also responsible for establishing the National Anti-Corruption Commission, for which we’ve been very grateful since we’ve waited for some years for this, we understand the OGP has been refreshed and renewed and we are indeed looking forward to what you have to say Simon and we’re hoping it’s bold.
Simon Newnham: Let me start by acknowledging to the traditional owners of the land on which we’re meeting here, and can I pay my respects to their elders, past, present and emerging and extend that respect to any First Nations colleagues joining us here today.
And, of course, acknowledging there’s a number of folks watching online and they may well be joining us from other first nations, traditional lands across Australia.
I also want to start with some thank you’s. I particularly want to thank Lyn for keeping us in line on the panel tonight.
But can I also say to the three organizing bodies, the OGP, the Accountability Roundtable, and Transparency International-Australia. I’m very grateful for putting on tonight’s event.
Can I single out particularly Professor Ken Coghill, who was my first entry point really into the work of the OGP and was instrumental in what I would describe as the sort of handover of the reins and the mandate for the Open Government Forum (OGF) including as being part of some of the recommendations to the Attorney-General on a reinvigoration and rejuvenation of this, including the membership of the Open Government Forum.
I wanted to acknowledge to the fellow panellists with me tonight, and having lived in Washington, I know just how far Sanjay has travelled to be here and it’s quite inspiring to have both him, but also his colleague Alan, all the way from Singapore to be part of both tonight, but also yesterday’s OGF meeting.
And can I say, we’ve only known each other a little while, but my co-chair in the Open Government Forum, Kate Auty, is already a terrific colleague and I think our partnership yesterday really shone through.
I did want to also note that the Attorney-General was actually hoping to be here, so I’m sorry you’ve got someone off the bench in place of the Attorney-General. He was hoping to speak to you, but it really goes to, I suppose, his deep commitment to the sorts of issues that I expect not only will I speak about tonight, but also that you might ask to tonight’s panel, over coming hours.
And can I just thank you all, too, for attending.
It’s a beautiful hall. I’m really pleased that I’ve been asked to be part of this panel. I’m really looking forward to your questions. And can I say my expectation is there’s great expertise in this audience, as there was yesterday, from civil society groups at the Open Government Forum.
I wanted to make three points, if I could, just in sort of framing from a Commonwealth perspective, some of the issues that I think will come up under tonight’s topics and of course happy to follow up with any answers to questions.
The first point I’d like to make is Australia is not immune from the global headwinds on integrity. You’ve heard from Sanjay about some of the sorts of things that are going on globally. I don’t think you have to go far to find data in Australia that points to concerns about misinformation or disinformation. I don’t think you have to go far to find data points and research about diminishinglevels of trust in government and government institutions. Here in Australia. An increased focus on integrity has been a feature for many years, but I would again point to some of the recent election campaigns, federal and state, that have had integrity related issues at the heart of some of the top issues that have been prominent in those campaigns in a way that perhaps we haven’t seen in the past. Increasing concerns in Australia about nepotism, expenditure, lack of transparency and accountability, and at the same time, governments that are ambitious, that come in on election platforms, that have many things they are seeking to deliver and frankly, reforms they’re wanting to put in place. So at the same time, you’ve got this diminishing confidence, you’ve got governments with big agendas wanting to get things done and you can see where there’s a disconnect at times in the ability to do that if you’ve got diminished trust in government. So I would say on that basis, the partnership between government and civil society sits at a very apex of these intersecting challenges.
The second point I wanted to raise today is that I think Australia is on the front foot when it comes to federal integrity reforms.
I’m originally from Melbourne; of course, I live in Canberra, but I’m originally from Melbourne.
So when I come back to Melbourne or catch up with my family at Christmas or over the Easter period and people say, “Simon, you know what’s happening in your job? What are you up to these days?” I tend to go straight to the things that are in the media, so I tend to talk about the creation of a national anti-corruption commission, the ninth and final jurisdiction in Australia, to have that long overdue, no doubt. But people have heard about that. And I tend to also talk about privacy because they’ve all everyone in my family has heard about the data breaches with Optus and Medibank and more recently Latitude. And in my world protecting the privacy of those that have lost their data is a key feature of what we’re doing in the Attorney-General’s Department, including future reforms we’re trying to get through. So I talk about that as well.
And the third thing I talk about, if I haven’t lost them at this point, is I mentioned the robo debt Royal Commission because the engine room that sits underneath the work commission is the Attorney-General’s Department. It’s a very difficult set of issues.
There is more to come and we can expect our department and others to be in the thick of a range of reforms that are going to flow. We expect from some of the findings of that commission.
But the other things I mentioned to family members, just so it peeks their interest a little bit, but underneath that data is a deep vein of other sets of reforms that are going on in my department and actually across government. Let me just list a couple of them for you. whistleblower reforms, otherwise known as amendments to the Public Interest Disclosure Act in two tranches, one before the NACC is created and one we hope comes afterwards.
Just let that go by the secrecy provisions review that the government has announced judicial Commission. So for the first time, a body that can take complaints about members of the judiciary which has never existed before, corruption prevention efforts that sort of accompanied the NEC to create the National Anti-Corruption Commission.
You’ve got to ask yourselves questions about procurement rules and the ways in which fraud prevention rules operate at the federal level and include corruption in those in those rules, appointments, processes.
The way in which we’ve appointed members of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal or the Australian Human Rights Commission.
These two bodies of reform that the Government has acted very early on and of course a rejuvenation and recommitment to the Open Government partnership, which I’ll come to in a minute.
But beyond the Attorney-General’s Department, I would say almost every department at the Commonwealth level has a has a body of reform agendas that it’s working on. The finance department, for example, working on electoral donation, sorry, political donation reform, the Prime Minister and Cabinet Department working on stewardship in the APS together with the Australian Public Service Commissioner on ministerial codes of conduct and parliamentary standards, and then the Jenkins report on Setting the Standard for parliamentary workplaces.
Meanwhile, other departments like the Treasury are working on reforms, on beneficial ownership, on transparency in grants, which is being worked on by the infrastructure department and on anticorruption efforts, which, as I mentioned a moment ago, are occurring in the Attorney-General’s Department. And that’s just a domestic focus.
We may get to this in the panel questioning, and Sanjay’s already touched on it, the domestic focus is very important, but of course that is the platform by which we then go to the G20 or APEC or the UN or some of our work with Pacific Island partners and help with best practice reforms as part of our development programs or as part of our role as a global steward.
Ultimately, Australia has an obligation for the nation that we are to step forward on that global stage.
The third thing I wanted to mention tonight in my opening comments, Lyn, was on the value and role and the voice for civil society, and particularly the role of the OGP as a key vehicle for this.
Yesterday, at the first meeting of the new membership of the Open Government Partnership, the Attorney-General addressed the group.
No Minister has ever done that before and he said the integrity of Australia’s public institutions lies at the heart of Australian Governments of all colours capacity to deliver social, political and economic outcomes in the public interest.
He talked about trust in government being critical to the proper functioning of public institutions.
And as I said a moment ago, the partnership between government and civil society sits at the apex of those intersecting challenges.
So boiling all this down, one of the things I said to that room yesterday was you might describe the Open Government Partnership as follows:
• A body that asks government to stretch and holds it to account,
• that asks for ambition within a zone of what is possible,
• that seeks to be a trusted and influential voice for members of civil society, for the public and for government.
• A body that increases public lifts the performance of government and ultimately makes Australia stronger.
I did want to also mention, as I said, that the Attorney-General had planned to speak here today, and the fact that he attended yesterday really goes to, I think, and again, you can ask those that were in attendance his personal commitment to the Open Government Partnership, and he talked as well about that unique opportunity for collaboration, something I heard a great deal from the members yesterday, and I can see some of them in the audience today.
I expect we’ll hear a little bit more about that in the course of tonight. Thank you very much.
Moderator: Thanks very much, Simon. I think that was very heartening. A lot of progress being made by this new government.
Our next and final speaker is Professor Kate Auty and she is here as the civil society co-chair of the Open Government Forum and with her very strong back background in civil society, in the environment and the law.
Thank you, Kate. We offer you our full support in this role.
And by the way, if you haven’t already heard, Kate has recently published a book, O’Leary of the Underworld the Untold Story of the Forest River Massacre. And it’s a must read for all of those who care about our sordid past.
Thanks, Lyn. I actually didn’t think that you would mention O’Leary, but having mentioned O’Leary, let me say it’s a fierce book about a terrible story. And I’d urge any of you who are reading it to take care when you do.
I am here today from Taungurung Country. So I’m here to say that all politics is local. You’ve heard from the esteemed colleagues about international issues about Canberra. Let me take you to the part of the world that I think is critically important for delivering on everything we want to do about open government. And it’s about where we live, who we are, what we think is important. And it’s actually about us as people in civil society.
Before I do that, I want to do something that I think is critically important for all of us right now, and it’s to make my acknowledgment of country.
It’s going to be different from the ones that you’ve heard already, because I think we need to personalize what it is we say about all these matters.
We’re here in Nam, near by the Birrarung River. That’s no surprise to anyone who’s thinking about these issues now. But I want to talk about Aboriginal people’s generosity because I think it plays out in what we need to think about when we vote on The Voice coming towards the end of this year.
And I was just down at the University of Melbourne today where I went and had a look at the Gregory Burgess exhibition in the Biology Library. Gregory Burgess is an architect who did some work with the Koorie Heritage Trust, an organization that is intensely Victorian, intensely about Aboriginal people’s experience here in this part of the world.
And it reminded me of the extraordinary generosity that Aboriginal people bring to every conversation we have about who we are in this country, what we’ve brought to it and what in fact they contributed before we arrived.
And it reminded me of that because in a tiny little place called Shepparton, which is a big country town where we set up the first Koori court, we actually had the benefit of some architects coming up and talking to Aboriginal people, Aboriginal elders about what they might want to say in the infrastructure that was there to deliver justice to them.
That’s our justice, not necessarily theirs. And we made sure that those architecture students who told me they had the very best education that their parents could ever afford to buy for them were exposed to senior Aboriginal people talking about what it meant to be a person on the riverbank and have a birth certificate that said: Place of Residence, Riverbank Mooroopna. And what happened was those architecture students went over to Cummeragunja, NSW. which is famous now, for the fact that it’s a civil society reflection of Aboriginal peoples’ capacity to impact what it is we do in this country.
And they learnt about what Aboriginal people wanted to see by way of courts. Courts, structure, infrastructure and justice and civil society
Here today with all of the things we’re talking about, is always going to be about justice. One of those very bright young women came back to us at the Koori Court there in Shepparton and stood to take us through her architectural model, which had been informed by senior Aboriginal people who had so generously given of their time.
And she wept and she wept because she said she had no idea this was what our country was and this was what we had done.
So I just want to acknowledge Aboriginal peoples’ generosity, and I want to say that as members of our civil society, we’re going to have a chance to do something about that as we come to the end of this year. And I thought I would lose because I am going to vote yes.
And I know that they have some differing views, but I’ve been surprised at the generous way that Aboriginal people have said to me, Kate, it’s a yes, it’s a yes, it’s a yes.
Now I’ll stop talking about that. You’ve asked us to be bold.
Sanjay: you’ve taken us to all these parts of the world and you’ve talked about democracy beyond the ballot box.
Simon: you’ve talked about partnerships, and I am delighted that we are co-chairs in this venture, having met you yesterday.
You’ve talked about partnerships, but I want to talk about why I say all politics is local and civil society is there rooted in the places in which we live and why somewhere like Indi which is the electorate I live in, can deliver change and many of you will have read Cathy McGowan’s book Cathy Goes to Canberra: Doing Politics Differently. That’s Cathy ringing to say good on you Kate for mentioning it.
Many of you will know that Helen Haines replaced her as an independent MP against the odds
in Indi, and it happened because of what people were doing on the ground, because we know we can change things. We know we can impact on the sorts of things we want to say our country do for the better.
And I’m just going to take you to some of the things that are happening in the tiny place where I live on Taungurung Country because it may well be that as we’re here in this great metropolis, people think that this is where it all happens and to a certain extent it is, but it also happens in any street in Euroa and it also happens in High Street in Shepparton, and it also happens by the Ovens River in Wangaratta and it also happens in the new plaza in Wodonga.
We can change things and that’s why I am delighted to be part of what it is we’re doing with the Open Government Forum, and I’m going to give you some examples of how we do that. In Euroa we were acquainted with the fact that the RTC with the Inland Rail was coming through. Our town was going to give us a monster new bridge where there is currently a very ugly and lesser bridge. Our community said: “that’s not what we want.”
We knew that we wouldn’t be able to get government to agree with us when we said we really just wanted to revert to what was a level crossing because, of course there are safety concerns. But we also knew that a monster bridge in our town, which was three metres higher and then had a car barrier and then had a suicide barrier, and then had the floodlights that would be able to be seen from space.
And the community said to the air to, say, the Australian Rail Track Corporation: “that is not what we want.” Many people spoke to us as we’d got people to sign a petition in Binney Street and we got two and a half thousand people to sign that petition against the odds.
And they said to us: “You can’t beat City Hall, you can’t beat City Hall. You’re going to get a bridge.” That’s what the RTC has arrived here and told you you’re going to get a bridge.”
Community action made it possible for the RTC to reopen that conversation. And we now have a very serious consideration of road on the rail in that tiny country town, because that’s what the community said.
We wanted to see. Now, what happened to get us to that was this community understanding that you need a theory of change.
And our theory of change is threefold.
• It’s start where you are because it’s what you care about.
• It’s organized because that’s what you need to do.
• And then it show what you did.
And can I say to every Australian here in the audience, that’s our shortcoming in my view, showing what you did. We need to channel our inner American and show off. And that’s ultimately what we decided to do.
However, one of the things that we had to do in relation to the Inland Rail was this It’s a private company wholly owned by the federal government.
And what does that tell all of you in this room? FOI does not apply, FOI does not apply?
We said to ourselves, how do we get access to the data that they’re using to inform the decisions they’re making about our town? And we knew that we couldn’t get it through the ARTC.
So we went around it. And what we did was we said to the Department of Transport: “they’ve provided you with a report. We want that report.”
FOI request went to the department because the company could not be afford. The company came back and said to us: ” We can’t give you that because it’s commercial in confidence.”
We said: “How can it possibly be commercial in confidence when the RTC is a monopoly?” They said: “Well, we think it still is” and we said: ”inadequate.”
We then went to the Victorian Information Commissioner and said: “We want this material.”
The Victorian Information Commissioner came back to us and said: “Well, the RTC hasn’t relied on that document for the purposes of determining what it is they are going to do. Are you sure you want it? You really don’t need it, do you?” We said: “it’s exactly because they haven’t relied on it that we want it. That’s the reason we want it. We want to know what it is that they have jettisoned in making the decision that they have. Just as much as we would want to know what it is they are using to make the decision they have. And it goes to the core of community concerns.”
We start to get told: “You can’t do things.” We then get told that there are reasons why you can’t do things.
We then get delivered the regulatory arrangements that say that it’s impossible to do things. And as communities, members of civil society, we say in a tiny country town, inadequate, and we go about it in all the ways that communities do by organizing around the issues.
Now, what’s really gratifying about the Open Government Partnership and the Open Government Forum is this: We have been told be bold and be ambitious. We have been told step up, take charge of this agenda.
And on this particular community forum – I like to call it a community forum – the Open Government Forum, we have people who are bringing democracy and colour, new democracy.
One of my colleagues who’s here (Hello, Tanya), who brings a background in relation to the questions, Castan Institute at Monash University.
We have others who are indelibly committed to making sure that that theory of change about start where you are organized and show what you did finds a place in the Open Government Forum.
Now, I’ll share this with you because we want to hear what you have to say about these matters. Here’s the things that the community representatives talked about yesterday. Accountability and grants. Now, it won’t come as a surprise to you that in Indi and in Euroa we are deeply concerned about accountability in grants. The sports rorts tells us that this is critical.
We’re sick of writing grant applications where what happens is they go into the wastepaper bin when somebody in parliament says: “well, they’re not my mates, we’re not going to be delivering on that particular request.”
Community cares about grants, we care about accountability.
We care about what happens to the work we as volunteers put into this.
We care about making sure that people pay attention and listen.
Just as I started this Aboriginal people care about being listened to.
All the things that we talked about were political advertising won’t come as any surprise to any of you.
Political donations also no surprise. Anti-Corruption, no surprise. Procurement. What a boring thing for many members of the public.
This is procurement. Who cares about procurement? We do because we know that procurement means that people are able to go around what’s required of them. We care about procurement, unsexy as it is, it’s important.
Delegated legislation was raised, trading scrutiny was raised, spending scrutiny was raised. War declarations were raised. Resources to the community was raised.
I hope I’m not stepping out of line when I talk about all of this because I know you didn’t, but I’m into it.
Appointments being non-paid person was raised and you’ve heard Simon and Sanjay speak about that, judicial appointments, making sure that what we do in respect of that is appropriate, fair and merit based.
If I’ve given you my thoughts on that media reform, governance reform, the right to assembly.
Now, one might say that that’s a state issue, and we’ve seen some pretty dramatic interventions in respect of that in Queensland and elsewhere.
And some people would say also Victoria accessibility to data totally essential enhancing engagement CALD communities and people who are neurodiverse and we’ve talked about gender here this evening. Can I just say that when I put something up about gender on one of my social media pages the other day, some bright young person came back to me and said, Gender is a social construct.
Think about it, think about it. Gender is a social construct like time and, of course, deliberative democracy.
Now, I’m going to finish. I’ve given you my rant, but I’m going to finish with this.
And it’s the acknowledgment I began with as we as we started our conversation yesterday. And it goes back to where I started talking tonight.
Aboriginal people like all of you want to be listened to and we want to see action as a result of being listened to.
William Barak came in from Coranderrk to Melbourne to ask Charles Latrobe to listen to him. He sat all day in Charles Latrobe’s waiting room, and he was then sent away.
We know what this stuff looks like on a landscape up, but do we know how he felt as he plodded his weary way back to current work that evening, knowing that he had been effectively jettisoned. Decades later, 100 years later William Cooper – Yorta Yorta hero – you’re a hero – came in from Footscray to the German Embassy with a letter about what was happening to Jewish people in Kristallnacht in Germany, and he was also turned away.
It wasn’t till 2018 that his great grand nephew, I think it was Uncle Turner, got to deliver the correspondence to the German Embassy, all those years later.
I just want to remind everybody that we’re not the first people not to be listened to in this country. We won’t be the last people not to be listened to in this country. But it won’t be the fault of the Open Government Forum that that doesn’t happen. Thanks.
Thank you so much. I think the Open Government Forum is and the Open Government Partnership is going to look a lot different with you on this on this team. So, we’re really looking forward to the to what comes of it.
We’re now going towards Q&A, and I’ve got some good questions here ready to go with. And now you’ve heard the speakers. You might want to quickly pen a question to them, but I will kick off with a couple that I’ve been given, so let’s proceed with that.
This one’s from Kelvin Thomson.
The Victorian Government Level Crossing Removal Authority and other government agencies are prepared to appeal rulings of the Victorian Information Commissioner. How can they be made to be more open and transparent rather than trying to hide behind commercial in confidence, etc.?
Who’s prepared to tackle this?
Kate Auty: Oh, I’ll talk about.
Kelvin, look, thanks for that.
I think that our experience in Euroa speaks to exactly that issue.
Did you know I was going to talk about it tonight?
Look, I actually think that there’s two layers to this. There’s one which is the community pressure. That’s our experience and the information commissioner, as I say, was prepared to take a softly, softly approach. We said that’s inadequate and we’ve got to be going back as communities who want that information to say it’s inadequate.
That’s what we did and it led to us getting the data, which didn’t change what we were doing, but it led to us getting it. So, I think there’s community pressure.
Other than that, I think that the way we need to talk about this is with our representatives and of course that’s going to be talking to politicians and making sure that they understand that it’s unacceptable.
It’s not an easy answer. It doesn’t give you the answer, but that’s really what we did.
Simon Newnham; This is necessary, so – look, I absolutely understand Kate’s points there and that they’re well made. I would just say a couple of things. One, coming into government, the Federal Government has been clear about the expectation.
The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner at a federal level has a great deal to do with education and culture and the way in which that is permeated through government departments, because there is actually maybe a mixed approach to FOI claims, for example, between different departments. And so the Attorney-General has certainly spoken about that to this point.
Can I also say there’s a Senate inquiry now into the operation of the FOI framework at the federal level that will look at the delays. It will look at whether or not the role of the Commissioner is fit for purpose in the way that’s been operating.
So, I think you could expect to see further examination of some of that. So I know your question is quite specific. I’m giving you just a bit of a sense of where that framework is, how the government looks at it, and what some of the pathway ahead might be in terms of having a look at that framework and its fitness for purpose.
Moderator: We’ve got so many questions here now, it’s going to be hard to sort them out.
Jackie Fristacky asks the question, what action – is a similar one to the earlier one – What action does the Accountability Roundtable consider should be taken over what amounts to collusion between the state government and Transurban, extending the latter’s monopoly position, building and extending freeways at the expense of integrated transport and urban planning as per legislative requirements of the Transport Integration Act, Planning Environment Act? If you’ve got an answer?
Kate Auty: I thought you’d ask a question about transport in relation to these matters.
We don’t have that on the list of our things that we’re concerned about at this stage, but plainly it’s an issue and we ought to be thinking about it. So if we take away from this the comment from the community about these issues, that’s what we ought to be thinking about, requiring some sort of action.
One of the issues we’ll have with the Open Government Forum, of course, is that this is federal. And of course, some of what we’re talking about here tonight will be state.
I actually think there’s an issue about how we get the federal government Open Government Forum to be demonstrating leadership about these issues and you might want to talk about that some because that’s one of the things that I think it does.
It might also be something that Sanjay wants to talk about, the leadership that’s coming out of other than subnational governments for the purposes of encouraging better activities at the subnational level.
Simon Newnham: Look, Jackie, all I could add there is – I’m really – There was quite a few things that I found inspirational yesterday (at the meeting of the Open Government Forum, 17 th April 2023), but one of them was the fact that we have although she (Elizabeth Tydd) couldn’t make it yesterday, her proxy came – the New South Wales office of the Information Commissioner who is a member of the Forum and I was looking back through some of the national action plans that have been to that have been endorsed, one that hasn’t been and I can’t remember which one it was involving the second one, there was reference there to the fact that, you know, states and territories are often first movers when it comes to very innovative and leaning transparency frameworks or ways in which they’re operating, including on free of information or privacy or whatever it might be already weren’t even done this one meeting yesterday. But already I can hear in the discussions that we had both amongst the larger group and then over the break, a sense that we need to tap in better to some of those initiatives at the state and territory level because they may well hold lessons for us in what we should be doing federally, as we should. We should look at the international examples of what’s going on elsewhere. And I think the attorney even referenced this yesterday. So, I guess the point being no one’s got a monopoly on good ideas. They may well exist already in Australia, but at a state and territory level or they may well exist in other countries that have some of these initiatives already in place.
Sanjay Pradhan: Thank you, Jackie.
I don’t know the specifics of this case, so I just don’t know the specifics on this. If it’s a transportation collusion or at least a monopoly case.
Is that right? So, I just wanted to mention a couple of points, which are, if you will, broader from a perspective of open government. Not so much on this one.
One links to procurement reform when government is in this case, I don’t know exactly what the arrangement is, but Kate, you referred to public procurement. You said it’s a boring area. And I want to tell you that it is actually one of the most prominent areas of reform in OGP.
I deliberately didn’t mention it because I didn’t realize it was in the agenda, but I will share with you because it’s evening time.
Let me ask you a question. Guess which country do you think has been on the forefront of open procurement reform? Let me just ask you for a for a show of hands. Anyone guess which country globally would be on the forefront?
Singapore? No. It is Ukraine. So, you know, the there was a Maidan Revolution which happened in 2014, which was citizen protests against at that time.
There was a president who was allying, you know, closer with Russia against the EU, and there was this massive protests in Kyev. So, in this independent revolution, there were young reformers from government, civil society and business.
And they said that even though the president was ousted, they felt that we would not have freedom until we break the power of oligarchs.
Oligarchs are very powerful individuals who capture the public procurement process. And in those in those in that year, the Ukrainian media was full of scandalous tales of oligarchs capturing the public procurement process of getting $4 million for a tiny strip of land.
So, it was a different form of monopoly, a different form of collusion.
Jackie, to the one you’re talking about. But it was corrupt, backroom deals happening.
So, these young three reformers from government, civil society, business, they decided to leverage the OGP platform to create new platforms. One is called Prospero, and others are called ProZorro & DOZORRO, that disclose all public procurement contracts in open data standards.
What does that do? It changes the game in public procurement.
Open data standards mean I can search all the procurement contracts, so I can see what are the patterns in who is getting awarded the contracts.
Is it one particular company that’s getting all the contracts? So, de facto you have a monopoly?
And what is the price at which this company is getting the contracts?
So that was PROTHERO And then in the second OGP action plan, they created those ProZorro.
What ProZorro does is it empowers citizens to monitor their contracts and report violations. This road was supposed to be built. It was never built or just built in poor quality and so on.
So guess what happened in two years? Citizens reported 14, 0 violations in contracts the government reported saving $1 billion. 80% of businesses surveyed by U.S. reported reduced corruption and there was a 50% increase in new businesses bidding for contracts because they had trust in the system through competition. Rather than capturing monopoly.
Seventy OGP Governments have gotten inspired and are implementing different forms of this platform, which is called open contract writing. So, I’m just sharing with you. Your point may be legitimate, may not; be I’m not going there.
I’m simply saying this is one particular reform that young reformers implemented which actually won the Global Open Government Award. And when they won the Global Open Government Award in 2016, the young civil society reformers who we gave the award to, he said, “You’re seeing me today. You may not see me again because I’m threatening so many interests, they will kill me.”
So that is the risk that they’re taking.
One final point on the local example that you were giving. OGP has about a few years ago gone local. So now we have OGP, local members – there were 106 OGP local members. And because government is closest to the citizens at the local level, you have many innovations happening at the local level.
And two, the example that you gave Kate I just wanted to share with you a very inspirational example which comes from Madrid, Spain, where, you know, there was almost like a movement to oust a government.
And when the civil society groups that were in advocacy, when they came to power, they said, we want to empower citizenry, be able to petition government on things like the bridge issue that you’re mentioning. So they created this platform, which is called the C de Madrid, DC.
The Madrid is a citizen petitioning platform where citizens can petition if there is a bridge that that doesn’t according to their interest, they can petition government when it reaches a certain threshold. The government is required to take action and they also created a participatory budgeting platform where they give €1 million for citizens to vote on budget priorities. Citizens propose the projects like a bridge or whatever, and citizens allocated $1 million.
It was not government. The two together created so much trust that after a few years, The Madrid became the second most used social media platform in Madrid next to Facebook because citizens started using this platform. It is one way of institutionalizing the example you gave through a platform leveraging OGP, where you have reformers like in government, like the Attorney General, who I must say has been very impressive in his commitment or. Simon.
And you have civil society activists. You can create a platform which you institutionalize this protest and response to the protests from government.
Kate Auty: I don’t think it (procurement) is boring.
Moderator: We have a question from Anna Griffin. She says: How can we ensure that Australia’s anti corruption and integrity frameworks continues to be strengthened? How can we encourage a whole of government approach to this?
Simon Newnham: Anna, thanks for the question. Look, I suppose what I … a couple of things I’d say here. One is, as I mentioned, you know, the ninth and last jurisdiction in Australia to get an anti-corruption commission, whatever you want to call it, has been at the federal level.
It’s taken a number of years; it’s been a heavy lift.
And as somebody who is now in the throes of trying to get the sort of, you know, elements of that new entity in place by 1 July 2023, I can tell you there’s a whole lot that goes in behind you, get the legislation, through Parliament and you’ve got to get a whole lot of things lined up ready to go.
I’m meeting tomorrow with others with the incoming commissioner, the deputies, the CEO and the inspector for our first session with them.
And we’ll walk through where we’re up to on establishing it. Why do I mention that? I mention that because I don’t think any one thinks that’s the end of the road, that somehow creating a national anti-corruption commission is kind of, you know, game over, job done, feet up on the desk, relax kind of forevermore.
I think folks say, well, you know, that’s been a long time coming. It’s really important. It needs to do its work. It needs to be empowered, it needs to be funded properly, and it needs to get its feet under the desk and operate for a number of years. But I don’t think any no one in Canberra, at least that I’m in the circles that I am operating in. No one says that’s enough or it’s the only piece of the architecture that’s needed. What people say is, well, accompanying that has to be a great deal of outrage across the public service, and we’re doing that right now, but we’ll expect the NACC to do that. They’re funded to do that.
We would expect to change – as I said earlier- the procurement rules and the Commonwealth fraud rule to reflect that you need to put in place as a government department, you know, measures in place to mitigate inside your organization.
I would say that the elements I mentioned a moment ago, particularly around whistleblower reforms which have been introduced to Parliament and had it not been for a range of competing other pieces of legislation may well have been debated already, but it’s been delayed. I would say that the merit based appointments point.
I made earlier about the judiciary, about the party and about the Australian Human Rights Commission, all of these are kind of layers that go to a wider anti-corruption landscape.
I did read an interesting article. I’m sort of freewheeling a little bit here, but I want to say this.
I did read an interesting article. I’m not necessarily saying there’s corruption involved here, but people will have been perhaps following in the papers the robo debt royal commission some of the allegations that have been made, the hearings, the many witnesses that we’ve heard from all of that happened actually when very robust frameworks were in place, rules and guidelines and obligations. I’m not saying they were perfect, but they were in place. They’ll get better.
I guess the point I’m making here is you can have all of that in place if you’ve got the wrong culture, the wrong expectations of leaders inside organizations, a great deal of that, you know, solid framework can be undermined. And I would just predict that you’re going to see coming out of something like the of robo debt royal commission.
I’m not even going to predict it. It’s already happening. The very most senior leaders in government across the public service are examining ways can lift our game in terms of our expectation of leadership and the culture that we instil inside teams, because without that, the good framework doesn’t really matter.
So I guess my answer is it’s a never ending road to better reforms learning from states, territories, other countries.
There’s already a great deal going on. But I think culture in the public service, at least at the federal level, is a major focus of some of that work.
Kate Auty: I just want to comment on that as well because and it’s an example, so pardon me, the intensely local stuff.
It’s an example because I think culture is what we make it. And I think one of the really interesting things for me out of that question about whole of government issues, when we when we dealt with the Aboriginal Justice Agreement here in Victoria, what has been created, it’s been co-created with Aboriginal people and we were thinking about what we would do in justice settings ana we needed to do a number of things at the Magistrates Court level, the tiny, you know, the sort of the grunt in the in the justice system.
We knew we had to establish Aboriginal justice officers, we knew we had to establish liaison, we knew we had to do something about bail justices.
We knew we had to get magistrates thinking differently about what justice met on the floor of the court.
But we had a thing which was an interdepartmental committee (IDC) is that what they called, which brought all of the various government departments together for the purposes of talking about the Aboriginal Justice Agreement.
And I remember talking to somebody years later and they said to me, I’d say these are a bunch of rubbish, they’re just a waste of everybody’s time.
My experience had been that an IDC about the Aboriginal Justice Agreement had been a fantastic effort to get everybody around the table. But what made the Koori work in my view, was not necessarily just the IDC, but it had to be there as a partner.
And I think one of the things about culture is all the anthropologists who were my mates would say it’s what we make it.
Moderator: There’s a quite a long question from Roger Taylor, but I think it’s a good one.
Government supporting institutions are increasingly succumbing to external pressure, particularly from the United States and our national and ability to address governance issues is being eroded. For instance, the nuclear submarine deal, anti-terrorist legislation that’s resulted in the loss of many basic rights, free trade deals, privatization of government services, the details of which are hidden, using commercial in confidence. If not stopped this will have a cascading effect that will provide governance and the values that underpin it. Achieving better governance will require actions at every level to change our culture, values and mindset.
Perhaps the panel can give us an idea of how we should respond.
Simon Newnham: In a strange twist, I’m 20 years in the public service, 19 of them have been in the Foreign Service, and I’ve served overseas in our embassy in Geneva and also in Washington.
What I can say on a couple of just on an overall sense is having spent 19 years amongst colleagues representing Australia in various forums, sometimes bilaterally with the US, sometimes at global forums such as APEC – I was Australia’s ambassador to APEC- I am quite proud of the nature in which and the way in which Australia’s interests have been represented bilaterally and in those global forums. And what I mean by that is this suggestion or the premise of the question is succumbing to others interests. I’ve never been part of something where Australia’s interests were left at the door and not represented. It may not always be as prominent and as public as folks would like, but I can tell you that the nature of any relationship, close or less close, we are- that’s that that’s our job to represent Australia’s interests. And I would tell you in my experience, that has been the case. So I just put that out front.
You’ve mentioned here though, a number of examples of big projects that are being undertaken and concerns about the level of scrutiny on them.
I’m not sure anyone will ever feel like there’s enough in place there, but let me just sort of reference. I know we’ve got a way to go, but our transparency index ratings are on the up. I know we’ve got a way to go, but we would still rank globally, very competitively when it comes to a bunch of the frameworks that are in place.
So for example, on any given Australian Government policy, those government officials have to front up to Senate estimates multiple times a year and get asked a series of questions.
There are, FOI frameworks that apply to their conduct, they are subject to a raft of obligations in terms of procurement, in terms of the APS values that they’re employed under. There are reporting obligations even in the most difficult national security issues, there are reporting obligations that apply there.
And there, of course, any time can be parliamentary scrutiny of any given set of issues. And I can tell you in the world I operate in, we are constantly being drawn before various forums to answer questions from across the political spectrum. It may not necessarily be enough and it may not necessarily always be sufficient, given some of the concerns that are being raised.
But I would say that the starting point is comparatively high and there are a number of avenues by which those judgments, the work that goes on there, is tested.
So, I just give you that as my answer.
Simon – this question is from Jean Lesley Nicholls and she says, Simon, what is your read for the political appetite or feasibility for lobbying transparency, in other words, comprehensive diaries for public servants and the like?
Simon Newnham: Thank you to Jean for the question. Look, I think as many people the audience may know, we have a lobbying code of conduct. It’s not legislated. It’s a framework and it’s a commitment that’s made there. And there is a register that lists all of those individuals that engage with lobbyists and their requirements underneath that.
And I know that from time to time there are suggestions about those that go around those obligations, and they certainly make it into public commentary.
And what I would say, I think that the second part of the question went to; Diaries. Okay.
So I know there’s been a number of requests, FOI requests for diaries at the federal government level and including from the Attorney-General he has committed to release his diary.
I’d have to check on other members of government who’ve done the same. But I know that that is a you know, that is an active consideration by a number of members of government in a way that I’m not sure has necessarily been the case previously.
Sanjay Pradhan: If I can just add one thing, – Lyn. So as I mentioned in my remarks, lobbying, transparency is a growing area. In OGP. 20 OGP members have made commitments on lobbying transparency. The most advanced ones are Chile, Ireland and Madrid that have really advanced it.
And I wanted to just give you an example from Chile, which is quite interesting. So there was a scandal and after the scandal there was ask of lobbying, transparency. So they created a register. But the register is not just of the lobbyists. The register is to them is to make transparent meetings and gifts between lobbyists and public officials.
So the it’s actually the diaries and the way you think, but it’s not just the meetings but also the gifts that that are being exchanged.
So we did a case study on this. And what happened is that as citizens started to monitor the meetings between public officials and lobbyists, they started to say to their public officials, elected and senior civil servants, if you have time to meet with this lobbyist, why don’t you have time to meet with me?
So the second and third order impact of that was that it started broadening access of regular citizenry to the public officials because it actually that transparency created that entitlement that if you’re meeting with these powerful lobbyists, why don’t you have time to meet me? So that was truly a broadening of democracy or access in that sense.
So that was just but we have some of these cases written up. If there’s interest, we can share this. Thank you.
Moderator: Melinda asks, Will the two step test in exceptional circumstances and in the public interest test be disruptive to the NACC, the National Anti-Corruption Commission, in meeting its purpose? Where when was the two step added? Will the two step test in brackets (in exceptional circumstances) and the public interest test be disruptive to the NACC in meeting its purpose? And when was the two step – the second step – added?
Simon Newnham: I probably have to take that on notice. I don’t know it is, but I think that question goes to the public hearings – Exactly. So, will it be disruptive? Well, I mean, I think there was very, very careful consideration, of course, given to that. And we absolutely acknowledge there’s different models for these. We’ve seen that at different state and territory levels. That’s where it landed. It landed with there needing to be the exceptional circumstances test. And as you say, it is two two step and a colleague of mine was heavily involved in that. As to when it was added, I honestly – I don’t know. I do not know the answer to that. I guess what I would note, what I would note, though, is there are and this came up yesterday, the Open Government Forum actually in a different sort of way.
There is the discretion and capacity for, the Commissioner to report findings. Now, they can go, of course, just to the minister, but other times there is a discretion for them to make public those findings, including the opportunity where somewhat where allegations have been made about an individual and they found no wrongdoing. There is the ability for the Commissioner to do that. I acknowledge that there is concern about it. Yes.
Just how many of those hearings will be public and just how many times a Commissioner will make those findings public.
I guess what I said yesterday to the forum was let’s let the NACC get its feet under the desk and get into operations and just see the level of transparency that flows from that and reassess whether or not, you know, there are meritorious suggestions about whether or not retrospective change needs to be made.
That is really something that I think you need to have a bit of lived experience with the entity itself for a period of time. But I actually, sorry, I don’t know all of the bits to answer that question.
A question around local government. This is from Ian Huntley, who says Boroondara Council often refuses to publicly inform residents on aspects of its functions and activities on the grounds of the matter is commercial in confidence or to protect privacy or there is no statutory obligation to disclose? If really desperate, they say the collection of the information would constitute an unreasonable diversion of council resources, a problem Ian has with a current FOI application.
He asked the council a simple question: What the annual net cost incurred by council under the Commonwealth Homes Support Program in the last seven years and was told that the information was commercial in confidence. He wants to know whether this type of behaviour is common and if so, how we can stop it.
Kate Auty: Who was that that asked that question?
I can’t comment on Boroondara because I don’t know. But what we find in our local government context is that we make those inquiries and we often get responses in similar terms. So I suppose what I would say about our experience is that we continue to find the ways in which we can work through them in the appropriate regulatory way, and that’s what we do.
If that is an issue which is across the board, obviously as the Open Government forum, we would probably want to hear about it.
And I was very interested to hear about what Sanjay said about registers in the way in which that’s worked in some other contexts. In particular, you (Sanjay) said Madrid.
So I’d be interested in hearing about that as well. And you want to say in what? Just the register and the way in which local government responded to what was inquired of them.
Sanjay Pradhan: Yeah, also the City of Madrid platform. So that was more on citizen petitioning.
Is that what you were interested in? Yeah. Yeah. So it was citizens petitioning on issues that matter to them. I want more green power, I want this.
And it is the way it works is when it crosses a certain threshold, government has to respond, and when it crosses a certain threshold, government has to act, take action on it. So it’s a way of empowering citizenry to influence policy.
And they went a bit further and created this €1 million fund where citizens proposed and they’re the ones who funded it. So, but we have some of this written up that we’d be happy to share it with you as well.
Voice: In those terms, who sets the threshold.
Sanjay Pradhan: Yeah. So there are 90 governments that have around the world that have tried to customize the City of Madrid platform. And so the thresholds have been have varied quite a bit across jurisdictions. So you’d have to see it depending upon the jurisdiction and size and things like that.
So yeah, we (OGP) can connect you to people who have been working on this probably that question are really good.
Moderator: Alright, we’re at 7:29 pm, so we’ll finish in a couple of minutes. But lastly, this question I think is quite good too.
Do you think that under our current government Australia will finally implement some of its prior (OGP) commitments, such as beneficial ownership, which I think you mentioned earlier and disclosure of public election funding? From Anna.
Simon Newnham: Thank you. Look on beneficial ownership for all the reasons I think Sanjay kind of outlined in his comments and actually noting again that I trawled back through the previous open government action plans for Australia and they have beneficial ownership as a key feature of that.
So clearly this is an issue that has attracted strong views and rightly so. What I can say is that the Treasury Department, who we work very closely with, is highly alert to this. And I would not be surprised if we saw further reform efforts there. I can’t say hand on heart they’ve been commenced yet, but I can say that’s a body of work that they are actively considering.
I would not be at all surprised if the Open Government Forum, saw fit to include again that body of work as a recommendation for further government reform.
I guess we will have to wait and see. We only had the first meeting yesterday. We have got to land our third National Action Plan by the end of this year. But already I’d say it is a prominent issue.
The second part was on election funding. I will have to take that one on notice – I just cannot remember where we are up to on that one. I think we would like to see more of the funding available to political parties disclosed,
Sanjay Pradhan: If I can just come in on the beneficial ownership transparency, I would highly encourage Australia to move ambitiously on that one.
It is one of the areas that is progressing, I would say arguably the fastest. you know, GP 30 or GP governments are advancing beneficial ownership, transparency.
There is a group called Beneficial Ownership Leadership Group, which is a subset of these 30 countries and civil society organization that are advancing this in very interesting ways and the countries that are innovating in very interesting ways.
I’ll give you one example. Slovakia has created penalties for misreporting on the beneficial ownership register, and they have linked beneficial ownership with open contracting – so a company cannot get a public procurement contract unless it is on the register – so unless you know the beneficial ownership of company. So these are just some very practical innovations that different countries are doing because they have had a head start in this.
And I think if Australia should actually join the beneficial ownership leadership group, that would be really beneficial. It’s just and I can just tell you the final thing in the Summit for Democracy which the second Summit for Democracy – I was invited to South Korea a couple of weeks ago – . we now have a growing momentum for these 30 countries to share data, open data across the jurisdictions so you can compare company ownership across jurisdiction because a lot of the illicit funds are going across borders.
So you need to be able to compare this – there’s a global public interest in this.
Simon Newnham: Lyn, I know the question was about electoral funding, election funding and this is a bit to the side, but I can certainly say something about political donations reform case that’s of interest to the audience. So clearly there’s a government commitment here on transparency and greater integrity when it comes to political donations laws.
And so it’s referred to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters for their inquiry and recommendation. It’s referred to the possibility or for examination, further transparency and integrity on political donations, including the applicability of real time disclosure.
So, in other words, not 12 months after the donation has been made, but actually in sort of real time and reducing the disclosure threshold to $1,000 from its current level. And now when that report is tabled, they’ll consider any recommendations to inform further legislative reform. So I know it’s a bit to the side, but it’s worth mentioning.
I’d like you to thank our fantastic panel. I think this has been a really, really useful session, so please thank them. There are a few other people I want to thank – no event gets to happen without a lot of hard work.
Ken Coghill, Charles Sampford, Alan Wu, Gerry McLauchlin and many others, thank you very much for all of the work that you’ve done to put this together.
And a big thank you to Chris Downey – here filming and livestreaming. I’m saying that because it’s so nervous-making when you can’t get the timing right. And we did in the nick of time. So yes, thank you for that, Chris.
We’ll hang around for a little longer and you can mingle, talk with one another, talk with our panellists who are prepared to stay for a little longer and then we’ll close the door at 8 pm.