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Australia Transitional Results Report 2018-2020 – For Public Comment

In 2021, the Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM) published the Transitional Results Report for Australia’s second action plan (2018-2020). The report covers the level of completion and the results of the action plan.

The version of the report for public comment is available below. The public comment period closed 10 September 2021.


Comments (3)

Peter Reply

The review
It came as a surprise to see that a new reviewer had prepared this report.
According to footnotes Keira Booth the New Zealand researcher may have commenced work in March this year or earlier to produce the report in August.
Neither the OGP/IRM nor the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (PMC) drew attention to or publicly noted that Daniel Stewart had been replaced. Or that the review was underway.
Without taking anything away from Keira Booth’s suitability to undertake the review, given her engagement in reviews and other relevant work in New Zealand, I expect those who are paying attention to open government issues here, like me, are surprised an Australian expert wasn’t appointed if Daniel Stewart was to be replaced
The process for replacement and the appointment of Keira Booth was not transparent.
Hardly a good look for the organisation leading on openness and transparency.
The report is published 14 months after the end date of the plan.
The OGP Steering Committee at the February 2020 meeting in Berlin indicated IRM reports would be published within six months.
Readership of a report on matters closed off in June 2020 is likely limited.
PMC provides no help or encouragement to participate- it does not publish independent reports on the website, doesn’t provide a link to the report on the OGP website.
The footnotes indicate the reviewer consulted some but not all civil society members of the Open Government Forum (OGF), one open government advocate Mel Flanagan, and Associate Professor Johan Lidberg.
Public or tailored messaging that a review was underway may have elicited broader inputs that could have been useful informing a view particularly from participants in the development of the plan, me (immodestly) for one. As the report notes there was little and infrequent discussion of implementation issues at meetings of the Open Government Forum.
The report provides a useful overview of action/inaction on commitments in the 2016-2018 Plan including commentary on what was achieved by the end of the cycle in implementing each commitment.
It makes only one recommendation: “Greater focus by the OGF on commitment implementation is recommended for the future.”
On close reading the report notes shortcomings and significant failings that might suggest at best, an overall unwritten assessment ’room for improvement’. Or to use more straightforward language that those who take an interest might use-underwhelming, unimpressive and unsatisfactory.
Regrettably there is no highlighted assessment along these lines or reference to context perhaps because of the IRM’s formulaic approach to review and reporting.
Discussion in Australia for most of the period since 2013 has seen widespread consensus that the government is, or is trending towards, closed not open government.
The New York Times may have exaggerated in stating “Australia may well be the world’s most secret democracy”
But few would give the Morrison government anything approaching a pass grade on openness, transparency and accountability,
( Two of many available references on the subject:
Culture of Secrecy: Right to Know campaign
Democracy Dossier: Australia has long been regarded as a leading liberal democracy, but our global reputation is declining. Extensive lawmaking in response to terrorism, combined with an entrenched culture of government secrecy, has put our democracy in a troubling state. Police investigations into journalists and prosecutions of whistleblowers suggest government respect for transparency, accountability and freedom of the press is at an all-time low.
Observations in the report that would confirm concerns about government commitment and enthusiasm for open government include:
The government did not make progress on the six commitments held over from Plan#1 (not identified in the report) apparently because the government “lacked interest in continuing these policy areas’.
The OGF spent little time discussing implementation of commitments in the plan.
Five commitments are complete or substantially complete. None do better than marginal in terms of contribution to opening government. This rating given for Commitment 7 “Engage Australians in the independent review of the Australian Public Service” is generous in the extreme.
The level of fully or substantially complete commitments fell from 75% in the first action plan to the current 62.5%
Commitments on strengthening the national anticorruption framework and enhancing transparency of political donations made little or slow progress. In the minds of most, no progress is closer to the mark.
“The responsible Minister and later the Assistant Minister did not respond to any invitations to meet the OGF, which negatively impacted both the ambition of the action plan and its implementation.”
(As an aside, civil society representatives on the Forum and the Interim Working Group that preceded it met the responsible minister once in the six years since 2015. PMC have not publicised the name of the current minister responsible for OGP co-ordination other than in the minutes of Forum meetings)
Reaction, response, next steps
I don’t think the Pandemic was a major impediment to progressing the commitments although it made things difficult for some.
In fact there are strong criticisms about the lack of transparency concerning the government’s response, for example the failure to publish contracts with vaccine providers and to cloak meetings of expert groups on related issues as ‘Cabinet in Confidence.”
Only two of eight available gauges of the scale of public influence during the development and implementation of the plan (3.1) receive a tick.
The Overview of performance against the OGP Standards (3.2) lists two red flags (no action) and eight yellow (standards not met).
Hopefully the OGP and the OGF regard failure to comply with standards as serious shortcomings and we will hear something reassuring about this from PMC/OGP.
As noted the third action plan-the major preoccupation 2016-2018- apparently has not been submitted.
That process commenced in November 2019.The initial timetable was for the plan to be submitted to the OGP by 31 August 2020. In August, 11 December 2020 was published (in Open Government Forum minutes but not elsewhere) as the new target date for lodgement.In November another new date, 1 March 2021 was mentioned in minutes.
Nothing has been heard since.
The OGP rule regarding delay (4) indicates governments in this situation are on notice they have acted contrary to OGP process:
“If a government does not deliver its new action plan before January 1 of the following year, (more than four months late from the August 31 deadline) it will be shifted to the following year cohort (e.g. from odd-year to even-year grouping of OGP participants) and be considered to be starting a new action plan cycle. Such government will have acted contrary to OGP Process for that action plan cycle. The government will receive a letter from the Support Unit noting this occurrence, and it will be copied to the Criteria and Standards subcommittee to consider any additional actions or support as necessary. Visit the Procedural Review page for more information on acting contrary to OGP process.”
There are no published OGF minutes since the meeting on 27 November 2020.
Presumably it has not met since.
It is telling that not one commitment in the two Australian plans adopted since 2016 are rated starred/ambitious.
Performance overall has been desultory, and disappointing.
Australia has no record of visible enthusiastic participation and engagement with the OGP as an international movement.
The words “Open Government Partnership” have never passed the lips of Prime Minister Morrison and rarely any other minister in governments since 2015.
The Prime Minister has spoken up about democratic principles and signed on to the Open Societies Statement at the G7 meeting in Wales earlier this year where he was one of four guest observers.
While lining up internationally with those who see democracy as better than the alternative is one thing, the first priority should be to showcase home and lead by example.
There are few signs so far that the government recognises the opportunity to turn open government not only to benefit society generally, but also to going some way to restore trust and confidence, and to government’s advantage.
We live in hope.
Peter Timmins.

Peter Reply

Apologies to Keitha Booth for misspelling her name in the comment posted above.
Peter Timmins

Independent Reporting Mechanism Reply

Dear Peter,
Thank you for reviewing the report and for sending your feedback. We appreciate your time and effort.
The public comment period closed on September 10 and we have posted the final version of the report incorporating some feedback received until that date.
We would like to directly respond to your questions related to the researcher, timeliness and the scope of the transitional results report.
The process for assigning Keitha Booth for the review is a result of the new approach IRM has been taking as an outcome of the IRM Refresh and is in accordance with the Strategy approved by OGP’s Steering Committee in 2020. The IRM now works with a pool of consultants, a smaller, more manageable group of researchers with regional, sub regional or thematic expertise. The pool is vetted by the IRM to review or conduct research as needed, based on availability and fit for each research project. More specifically, the Strategy acknowledges the following:
“Instead of having IRM Researchers for each country, The new IRM Researcher pool model will reduce delays and complexity of researcher recruitment and retainment, increase cross-country analysis, safeguard the credibility of the mechanism by reducing the number of individuals representing the IRM and mitigate risks of a researcher developing a conflict of interest in their own country’s process.”
While this represents an adjustment to the way we used to work, we are confident that working with a pool of experienced consultants allows us to produce better reports that are timely and have all the necessary elements to support countries in their OGP process. IRM consultants are selected on account of a proven track record conducting research, editorial reviews, high quality writing and analysis and reliability to meet deadlines. To join the pool of researchers, they must go through a competitive process and conflict of interest vetting. Many of the current researchers in the pool are former IRM researchers with a proven track record of quality work, responsiveness and timely delivery of contractual obligations, such as Keitha.
I would also like to clarify that Keitha came on board for review in February 2021 and we had officially notified the Australian Point of Contact that she would be preparing the transitional results report. She had introduced herself and contacted members of the forum at the end of February/beginning of March. This is a common process IRM follows in the beginning of each review.
The work on the transitional results report commenced in February 2021 and the pre-publication draft was shared with the government and members of the forum on June 13, 2021. Until 2021, IRM reports took 12 months to produce, including the end of term reports looking at implementation. The document you point out refers to the decision related to the new IRM products, namely the Action Plan Reviews. Starting from 2021 the IRM has been able to produce the first batch of Action Plan Reviews (previously known as “Design Reports”) in record time. We have been able to send these for government review in four months.
Scope of the report
As the report shows, Keitha Booth has done an extensive research which she has complimented with multiple interviews with the implementing agency representatives and civil society members. The civil society members interviewed for the report include Ken Coghill, Mary Miller-Sawkins, Serena Lillywhite and James Horton. Any other stakeholders or interested parties are welcome to provide feedback on the report during the two week public comment period.
The main purpose of the transitional results report is to provide an account of the implementation and early results of completed commitments. Hence, there is no specific section for recommendations. However, the design report published last year provides a list of IRM recommendations both for co-creation and the content of the next action plan. It can be found here:

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