Australia Still Considering Committed OGP Membership

4 September 2015

The Australian government has not yet decided whether to commit toward membership in the Open Government Partnership, a government spokesperson told FreedomInfo.org Sept. 4.

The OGP Steering Committee recently gave Australia until the end of October to indicate its intention to be an active member, or to join Russia as an OGP drop-out.

The answer is under consideration.

“The Australian Government is positively inclined towards joining the Open Government Partnership but has yet to make a final decision,” the official said, adding, “The Government intends to form a view as soon as possible and will take as long as necessary.”

Australia is officially counted as one of the OGP’s 66 members, although has not followed through on its May 22, 2013, letter indicating its intention to join by developing a national action plan — the document that contains open government commitments and is supposed to be created with public consultations.

Just saying you want to join isn’t quite enough to be counted as a member, according to the OGP Articles of Governance. In addition, to be considered as members, countries must have declared their support for the OGP principles and “initiated the process of developing concrete action plans.” In practice, the OGP ticks up its membership count based on letters of intent.

In mid-2013, after sending the letter of intent, the then Labor Party government headed by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd showed signs of starting on the development of a national action plan.

This effort ended, however, when the new center-right government of Tony Abbott won the election in September of 2013. Abbott’s government has not followed through on the development of an action plan. The twists and turns of its positions and actions concerning the OGP are chronicled by Peter Timmins in a Sept. 4 Open and Shut blog post.

Suggesting continued engagement, however, Timmins reports that Daniel Featherston, Economic Counsellor at the Australian Embassy in Manila, is slated to attend the OGP Asia Pacific Regional Meeting to be held Sept. 7-8, 2105  in Manila.

His article says, “The last time anything was said publicly about Australia’s OGP intentions was February 2015 when the Minister for Finance told Senate Estimates the issue of Australian membership was still under consideration and the government was ‘positively inclined’ to join.”

He also reports:

We know thanks to documents released under Freedom of Information that in August 2014 Prime Minister Abbott wrote to the Minister for Finance instructing that no announcement of Australia’s position on membership of the OGP should be made “until a draft national action plan is submitted for my consideration.The action plan must give effect to practical measures that align with the Government’s overall policy objectives in this area and that take into account the work of the (Redacted: s 34(3) Cabinet) and the timeframes for Government decisions on that work.” Finance told the Minister work was coming along and should be in hand by the end of 2014. We don’t know what happened since.

Unhappy with the procrastination, the OGP Steering Committee said in late July that the lack of an action plan after two years was “particularly concerning” and asked that Australia “recommit to OGP” by the end of October, when the OGP is holding its Global Summit meeting in Mexico and the Steering Committee will meet again. (See previous FreedomInfo.org report.) OGP officials have had no formal response.

The Australian government spokesperson said, “Interaction with the Open Government Partnership support unit continues to occur as required and appropriate.”

Russia in May of 2013 became the only country to indicate its intention to join the OGP, but then to back out, which it did without explanation. (See previous FreedomInfo.org article.)

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