23 September 2015

Open Government seems to be back on the agenda in Australia.  A sense of satisfaction is evident in Peter Timmins’ post today on Open and Shut.  He has unceasingly advocated that Australia should be a leader in international measures to improve the accessibility and usability of government information.  His blog records his increasingly exasperated exhortations to Ministers to fulfill a 2013 commitment to join the Open Government Partnership. Now the new Prime Minister appears to be breathing life into what was an increasingly moribund looking obligation to give effect to the Open Government Declaration.

Australia and New Zealand “signed up” as part of the class of 2013, intending to file the requisite action plans in 2014.  New Zealand met the deadline, but with diminishing political enthusiasm, it looked like Australia would withdraw, as Russia did last year.  New Zealand has the status of implementing the first action plan cycle along with many of the other 66 member states. Australia, still developing its action plan, remains on the fringes of the OGP.

This week the Prime Minister has indicated that Australia should be a member of the D5 – another open government ginger group – made up of United Kingdom, New Zealand, South Korea, Israel and Estonia (all OGP members also.) He apparently has “put down a marker that he is serious about the shift to 21st Century openness”, which,  by inference, was not the perspective of his predecessor.

Ironically, while Open and Shut urged Australian Ministers to follow the New Zealand lead, there is a sense of disillusionment among Open Government enthusiasts in New Zealand because of the unimaginative character of our action plan.  The website inviting public feedback on the action plan solicited 18 comments during August, but hasn’t attracted any further responses this month.

A major point of difference between the Open Government Partnership and other international bodies is meant to be the central role which civil society plays alongside governments in the development, implementation and monitoring of national action plans. There seems to be limited interest outside Wellington in generating this civil society.