Will the Australian Government take an open government approach to developing its Open Government National Action Plan?

Now that Australia has finally sent a letter of intent to join the Open Government Partnership, I’ve been reading examples of how other jurisdictions went about developing their National Action Plans (a requirement of OGP membership) to foster and support government openness.

It is clear that one of the key attributes of the most meaningful Plans is broad engagement with external and internal stakeholders and with the public on what should be included and emphasised within the National Action Plan itself.

For example, the US’s second National Action Plan states:

As it developed a U.S. National Action Plan (“National Plan”), the Federal Government engaged in extensive consultations with external stakeholders, including a broad range of civil society groups and members of the private sector. It solicited inputfrom theAdministration’s own Open Government Working Group, comprised of senior-level representatives from executive branch departments and agencies. White House policymakers also engaged the public via a series of blog posts, requesting ideas about how to focus Open Government efforts on increasing public integrity, more effectively managing public resources, and improving public services. Responsive submissions were posted online.

And Canada’s National Action Plan states:

Over the past two years, we have consulted Canadians on both the development of a Digital Economy Strategy and on Open Government. Our Digital Economy consultation sought feedback from all Canadians on how to improve innovation and creativity, and achieve the shared goal of making Canada a global leader in the digital economy. More recently, in the fall of 2011, we launched a consultation to explore Canadians’ perspectives on Open Government in order to inform the development of Canada’s Action Plan on Open Government.

In fact, it is a requirement for joining the OGP that nations engage in public consultation around their National Action Plan – not simply trump out previous consultations on related topics.

For example, the UK’s draft for their second National Action Plan is currently out for public consultation at https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/open-government-partnership-uk-draft-national-action-plan-2013

Something that will be keenly watched by the open government community in Australia is therefore not only whether the Australian Government releases a National Action Plan and completes its commitments to join the OGP, but how the Government goes about creating the plan.

This is a case of monkey see, monkey do – the tone of openness for future Australian governments could be set by how the Government consults and engages the public and external stakeholders in creating the plan.

If the Australian Government takes a ‘lip service’ approach, resting on past achievements and limited engagement, this will provide senior public servants with a lead that the Government wants to be seen to be open, but doesn’t really wish to be open, leading to similar behaviour in future consultations and openness across the Australian Public Service (APS).

However if the Australian Government takes this opportunity to pursue a world-class approach to demonstrating it s commitment to being as open as a national government can realistically be, this sends a different signal, a signal of commitment to true transparency, which will provide a different lead to senior public servants, one which fosters ongoing commitment throughout the APS.

A lot rests on the approach the Australian Government takes to progresses its intent to join the OGP over the next few months – with a backdrop of a new Prime Minister, new Ministry and new agenda facing an upcoming federal election and an in-progress FOI review.

With the Attorney-General’s Department in charge of the OGP process, rather than a government body more intimately connected with an openness agenda, we can only wait and see how the Australian Government will take this forward.

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