Australia Reconsidering OGP Membership, Paper Reports

24 April 2014

The Australian government under Tony Abbott is “reconsidering” the previous administration’s pledge to join the Open Government Partnership, according to Sean Parnell, reporting in The Australian.

An announcement at the early May regional meeting of the OGP in Bali had been widely expected, but Parnell wrote:

But Attorney-General George Brandis has instead passed responsibility for the OGP to the Finance Minister, Mathias Cormann. Senator Cormann was invited to attend a regional OGP meeting next month but will only send a mid-level bureaucrat — and just to watch.

Senator Cormann’s spokeswoman confirmed the OGP commitment — made almost a year ago — was under review.

“The government is considering its position on membership of the Open Government Partnership,’’ the spokeswoman said in a short statement to The Australian.

Speculation Apparently Confirmed

Australia sent a letter of intent to join in May of 2013 under the labor government, but since the center-right Liberal/National Coalition carried the election in September there has been no visible work on preparing a national action plan, leading observers to wonder about the new government’s intentions.

Craig Thomler on eGov AU wrote March 13 that ”despite … many attempts by various journalists and civic organisations to discover how Australia’s OGP membership efforts were progressing, there’s been almost total silence from the Australian Government on the topic over the last six months.” He noted, “There’s even now an FOI request underway to discover what steps the Australian Government has been taking in regards the OGP.

The apparently diminishing Australian interest in the OGP has been chronicled by Open and Shut blogger Peter Timmins, who recently wrote:

However little has been said publicly about Australia undertaking steps to complete membership requirements. In May 2013 the then Attorney General Mark Dreyfus said that we would achieve this by April 2014.

Information Commissioner John McMillan is quoted in the Australian as being disappointed and commenting, “I get concerned about whether there’s the same sustained commitment to FOI.’’

On April 24, the blog No Right Turn commented:

The Abbott government has been no friend of open government, and has led a massive increase in secrecy since coming to power. So its not really surprising that they’re now also backing away from international commitments in that area. It is however disappointing that a government in a modern, democratic state thinks it can get away with it. OTOH, looking at what else they get away with, their contemptuous attitude towards the public is hardly surprising.

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