After a change of Prime Minister and a good deal of pressure from ART and other accountability-promoting organisations, on 17th of November, the Turnbull Government has finally agreed to  join the Open Government Partnership.

The Open Government Partnership exists to make sure, in it’s own words, that “more governments become sustainably more transparent, more accountable, and more responsive to their own citizens, with the ultimate goal of improving the quality of governance, as well as the quality of services that citizens receive. This will require a shift in norms and culture to ensure genuine dialogue and collaboration between governments and civil society.”

Accountability Round Table has been making representations to the government on the matter of joining and the reasons why it makes sense, since September 2014.  You can see why the OGP matters in our letter to Tony Abbott, and his response in our post here.  Australia, under the then Labor government, first indicated it was considering joining in May of 2013. However under the Abbott government, elected in September of that year, it is fair to say that the process completely stalled.  As Tony Abbott said to us at the time, “I do not consider there is any need to rush that consideration.”

You can see our frustration with this response in our other letters to Mitch Fifield and to Malcolm Turnbull.

Joining the OGP commits the Australian government to develop a two year National Action Plan. This in turn requires an open national public consultation process.

However as Leanne O’Donnell, writing in “Eureka Street” makes clear, there is an increasingly frequent trend in Parliament and Government to provide too little time to lodge submissions in relation to inquiries of significant public interest. As a result, the policy and legislative processes are compromised. As James Riley adds in his article for Innovation Australia, Open Government ; why the rush now? “Simply blowing the dust off a years-old process that had been shelved two years ago – by this government – really doesn’t buy trust or good will. We need to start again and sliding a three-week initial consultation quietly under the radar with a departmental statement really isn’t good enough.”

There are two possible responses to this state of affairs. The first is to contribute to the consultation process. Unfortunately it looks as if in addition to a short consultation period, much of the agenda has been set. However there is still some capacity for influencing that. As the Australian government OGP consultation website says;

“Stage 1 – Preparation, Framework and History

17 November 2015 – 11 December 2015

A very short preparatory stage to get your feedback on a vision, skeleton framework for the Australian NAP Draft and get feedback on the background/history of open government in Australia. We also encourage you to explore the OGP website including some of the actions plans from other governments. This is Australia’s first action plan. You can contribute to this stage by:

  • Adding feedback on the vision and framework to the Stage 1 Blog post comments.
  • Adding feedback to the draft Background page comments.
  • Tweeting your thoughts to #ogpau.
  • Please keep specific ideas, actions and contributions to stage 2 as we need to get the framework right first.”

 

However the second response, which we hope others take up, is to make an issue out of short and ill publicised public consultations as a whole.