28 April 2014

Both New Zealand and Australia were slow off the mark in committing to the Open Government partnership.  But while a working group in New Zealand is supporting efforts to get some sort of head of steam in place for the early May OGP regional conference in Indonesia, the Australian Government appears to have gone cold on OGP membership and the requirement to develop and implement an action plan.

On the day the Australian Finance Minister indicated that Australia would delay any commitment, the French Minister of the Reform of the State and of Decentralisation  announced that France would  join the Open Government Partnership “with great determination”.

Ireland, also joining the OGP this year, has demonstrated its enthusiasm for the movement by hosting the European regional meeting next month.

Although the previous Australian administration seemed willing when “invited“ by the United States to seek membership of the OGP, at no stage has any enthusiasm been evident among ministers in the Abbott Government.  “The Australian” has reported that it has been refused access to correspondence between Ministers about the OGP because “the government has yet to reach a final policy position on these matters’’.  The feel good factor of participation appears to have been outweighed by the implications of being held to account to an international NGO for an action plan which though attractive to civil society, may be better managed with flexibility to reflect other government priorities.

After a year of contemplating the OGP obligations, the Australia Government appears unwilling to sign up to an action plan – which for the 4th cohort of OGP members was anticipated this month.  New Zealand, also in the 4th cohort, is planning to have something in the way of an action plan to proffer at the Asian regional meeting in May.

By contrast, France will be in the fifth cohort and expected to submit a draft action plan by April 2015. However France not only has declared an intention to join, but to…”to contribute…with full commitment and by engaging in a fruitful dialogue with its partners…”  The Minister has indicated that the French draft action plan will be published later this year – six months ahead of the OGP requirement.

The media statement about the French intentions indicates that it will be the 64th OGP member state – overlooking action by Russia to rescind its membership and the ambiguity of Australia’s status.

Those second-thoughts are not shared by France which enthusiastically declared that “…What’s at stake is innovation and building the public action of tomorrow. It’s not only about being accountable, it is also about deeply renewing the way we design, drive and assess public action.