Cormann takes lead on OpenGov

James Riley
Editorial Director

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann has been appointed to drive Australia’s commitments to the multilateral Open Government Partnership, despite the architects of the National Action Plan remaining in the Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet.

It’s a weird reporting structure, with lots of dotted reporting lines, but one that has been largely accepted as workable by the civil society groups that have been involved in the year-long, on-again, off-again consultations on Australia’s OGP membership.

Angus Taylor overseeing one of the engagement sessions in planning for the OGP membership

Mr Cormann will lead a small delegation of senior officials to the bi-annual Open Government Partnership conference in Paris in the first week of December.

If everything goes to plan – and the stop-start nature of the process so far offers no guarantees – then the planners will have completed its final round of public consultation by the end of next week, and a the formal National Action Plan will be handed to the OGP in Paris, on the eve of the conference starts.

And that is expected to be just in time for Australia to be formally accepted as a member into the Open Government Partnership at the conference. The Finance Minister is expected to be invited make a presentation to the conference to outline the commitments under Australia’s National Action Plan.

If you have read this far into the story and still have no idea what the Open Government Partnership is, you will not be alone. The Open Government Partnership is not well known outside of a fairly tight group of public policy wonks and interest groups.

The OGP is one of those ‘worthy’ stories. That is, the Open Government Partnership is important and valuable to the public good, and therefore considered uninteresting by the mainstream.

But the ideals and ambitions of the OGP on building continuous improvement in transparency and anti-corruption measures are important indeed. So while it might have taken a long and somewhat torturous path to get Australia to the start-line of OGP membership, that road is nearing its end.

The Open Government Partnership is an international initiative established in 2011. It has 70 participating countries. Its aim is to secure concrete commitments from its member governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, to fight corruption and to use new technology to strengthen governance.

The OGP is genuinely interesting. It adopts a kind of peer-review practice to encourage continuous improvement.

Australia first announced it would join the group in 2013 as the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd Government was drawing its final breaths. It was put on ice under Tony Abbott and then resuscitated late last year when Malcolm Turnbull became PM.

The result is that this National Action Plan has been developed over a nearly 12 month period. You can read background here.

The Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet’s principal advisor on public data policy Helen Owens says the appointment of a senior Cabinet minister from a central agency in Senator Cormann as ‘Co-ordinating Lead Minister’ would give the project greater momentum.

“It was thought that this is a significant enough policy that it ought to be a Cabinet minister who leads the coordination of this,” Ms Owens said.

“It’s a slightly different arrangement, where the [public service] unit that will look after the OGP going forward in Prime Minister and Cabinet will basically report up to Senator Cormann on this issue,” she said.

To an outside observer, at least some of the commitments look like business-as-usual for government (as in, it lists as commitments areas where government is already doing work.

But Ms Owens says the OGP commitments take existing programs of work further.
In the case of its whistle-blower protections in the tax and corporate sectors, together with other transparency measures, the National Action Plan takes things further than had been envisaged by government.

I wouldn’t expect to me reading much about the OGP or its outputs in mainstream media. But its important work.

The full detail of the themes and commitments of Australia’s National Action Place for the OGP are:

Transparency and accountability in business

  • Improve whistle-blower protections in the tax and corporate sectors
  • Consult on the details, scope and implementation of a register of beneficial ownership of companies
  • Work towards compliance with the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative to enhance disclosure of company payments and government revenues from oil, gas and mining

Open data and digital transformation

  • Work with the research, not-for-profit and private sectors to release high-value datasets and drive social and economic outcomes
  • Engage with the community and improve privacy risk management capability across government to build public trust around data sharing and integration
  • Deliver a whole-of-government digital transformation roadmap and a live dashboard measuring the performance of government services

Access to government information 

  • Consider options for reforms to the framework for managing and accessing government information (including the Freedom of Information Act 1982, the Archives Act 1983 and, where relevant, the Privacy Act 1988) to deliver a simpler and more coherent framework within the context of digital government
  • Improve understanding of the public’s use of freedom of information by working with the states and territories to collect and publish uniform data
  • Improve the discoverability and accessibility of government data and information through central portals and digital platforms

Integrity in the public sector

  • Work with the parliament and the public to investigate the conduct of the 2016 election, use of technology in elections and the framework of donations to political parties and other political entities
  • Strengthen our national anti-corruption and integrity framework, including regularly reviewing the jurisdiction and capabilities of the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity and the Australian Federal Police’s Fraud and Anti-Corruption Centre
  • Undertake a public review of the Australian Government’s compliance with the Open Contracting Data Standard

Public participation and engagement

  • Establish a permanent forum for dialogue with civil society to monitor implementation of the National Action Plan and inform the drafting of future National Action Plans
  • Develop a whole-of-government framework to improve public participation in government decision making for better policy development and service delivery.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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