Reports

Australia Mid-Term Report 2016-2018 (Year 1)

Country : Australia
Dates Under Review : 2016-2017
Report publication year : 2018
Researcher : Daniel Stewart

Overview - Australia Mid-Term Report 2016-2018 (Year 1)

The Australian government made substantial progress in completing several commitments in areas such as combating corporate crime and steps to improve the discoverability of government data. To increase the ambition of commitments, future action plan development could involve a wider range of interests and include further steps to enhance awareness and support of open government initiatives within government and in the community generally.

Process 

Overall, participation during the development of the action plan was collaborative but involved a relatively narrow range of interests. There was also little involvement by the legislature and judiciary in this process. This, coupled with low public awareness and a delay in establishing an implementation monitoring body, limited the ambition of the commitments put forward.

Level of Input by Stakeholders

During Action Plan Development
Y1
No Consultation
Inform
Consult
Involve
Collaborate
Who was involved? 
Civil Society Involvement
Beyond "governance" civil society
Mostly "governance" civil society X
No/little civil society
Narrow / little government consultation Primarily agencies that serve other agencies Significant involvement of line ministries and agencies
Government Involvement
The first phase of development occurred in two distinct phases: the first involved officers from within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, who established a public consultation process that included representatives from state governments. Additionally, the first phase saw the creation of an Interdepartmental Committee, comprising representatives from up to 26 federal government departments and agencies, which together formulated 11 of the commitments. The second phase involved a revised consultation process following a federal election that had an interim working group with six representatives each from civil society groups and federal government agencies. There was limited evidence of participation by the legislative and the judiciary and of subnational governments beyond the initial public consultation. Governance organisations were the main representatives of civil society through the Australian Open Government Network.
OGP Co-Creation Requirements Followed 

Commitment Performance 

The majority of commitments were measurable and relevant to OGP values. Future commitments could aim for more transformative potential impacts with greater accountability for their completion.

Commitment Completion 

Current Plan
Year 1: 0%

Commitment Ambition 

Current Plan
Year 1: 0%

Starred commitments 

Current Plan
Year 1: 0%

IRM Recommendations 

1. Broaden the range of stakeholders and interests reflected in the open government process at the Commonwealth level, including increasing civil society collaboration in government decision-making structures and processes. This should at least result in a new commitment topic for the next action plan.

2. Developing a whole-of-government approach to enhancing awareness and support for open government initiatives, including by monitoring, evaluating and publicising their impact.

3. Establish a collaborative multi-stakeholder forum to work on establishing a federal anti-corruption agency and lobbying and political donation reform initiatives.

4. Detail a comprehensive process for reform of information management and access practices within Commonwealth government agencies, including the current and possible future roles of Archives, the Digital Transformation Agency, and the Australian Information Commissioner in that reform.

5. Expand the role of the Open Government Forum to include consideration of open government initiatives at the state and territory level to enhance coordination between jurisdictions and to explore development of sub-national open government action commitments.

Commitments Overview

Commitments Overview

Commitment Title
Well-designed (Year 1)*
Starred (Year 1)
Overview
No
No
A Parliamentary inquiry and public consultation paper on whistleblower protection in the corporate and taxation sectors have taken place, with feedback submitted on a draft of a proposed whistleblower bill. Reforms to the Public Interest Disclosure Act could be considered in the next plan.
No
No
Civil society groups expect that this commitment will lead to the establishment of a beneficial ownership register of some form, though consultation between Treasury and stakeholders is ongoing. Government could consider making the register publicly available.
No
No
Although a multi-stakeholder group was created to oversee implementation of the EITI Standard, governmental review of the implications of amendments to the Standard has delayed completion.
No
No
This commitment comprises initiatives relating to disclosure and transparency in corporate regulation, with public consultation papers released on current enforcement mechanisms and proposed reforms. Government could undertake ongoing consultation with CSOs on implementation.
No
No
Commitment implementation, including establishing a high-value dataset framework, is behind while the government considers its response to a recent Productivity Commission report on government data usage and availability. A multi-stakeholder roundtable could assist in monitoring and coordination.
No
No
Establishment of an expert panel and a public engagement process on governmental information sharing is delayed, but a new privacy code was registered and the International Open Data Charter was adopted. Moving forward, government could ensure the panel has a role in scrutinizing and coordinating data.
No
No
While agency and sector digital transformation roadmaps are still being developed, the Digital Marketplace has improved ICT procurement and a live dashboard is increasing public oversight of government services.
No
No
The Attorney-General’s Department consulted with government and non-government stakeholders to understand current information frameworks and identify shortcomings, but implementation is delayed. Future commitments for reform could be more specific.
No
No
Information collected on metrics, determined by a working group and public consultation, was compiled to create a draft dataset on the public’s use of freedom of information access rights. Government could consider publication in open data format and extending the range of metrics used.
No
No
A collection of initiatives to increase the accessibility and use of open government data were generally substantially completed but there was some overlap with other commitments and their implementing institutions. Overlapping milestones should be integrated into overarching commitments.
No
No
The Joint Senate Committee on Electoral Matters (JSCEM) has so far produced three reports on the recent election and electoral system, but with legislative action still to come. Next steps could include developing a specific consultation process to respond to JSCEM report proposals.
No
No
The first Government Business Roundtable on Anti-Corruption was held on 31 March 2017, but there has been limited completion of responses related to ACLEI jurisdiction and stakeholders have criticised the lack of commitment to the general national integrity body. In the next action plan, this commitment could investigate establishing a single federal anti-corruption agency. 
No
No
A review of the AusTender procurement information system’s compliance with the Open Contracting Data Standard was performed and made public. Feedback was solicited and compliance improvements still to be agreed upon. A comprehensive review of the costs and benefits associated with implementation should be carried out moving forward.
No
No
The commitment established an OGP multi-stakeholder forum, composed of government and civil society representatives with non-binding authority, to inform on creating future action plans and monitor implementation of the current one. While functions and operations of the forum should continue, it does not need to feature in the next action plan.
No
No
A working draft report taking stock of current approaches to public participation includes initial elements of a framework for improving participation and engagement. The extent to which there is whole-of-government support for such an initiative needs to be demonstrated through a greater public commitment to the process.

 

*Commitment is evaluated by the IRM as specific, relevant, and has a transformative potential impact

 

IRM Report - Australia Mid-Term Report 2016-2018 (Year 1)


I. Introduction 
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The Open Government Partnership (OGP) is an international multistakeholder initiative that aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to their citizenry to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance. OGP provides an international forum for dialogue and sharing among governments, civil society organizations, and the private sector, all of which contribute to a common pursuit of open government.

Australia began its formal participation in May 2013, when Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus declared his country’s intention to participate in the initiative[i].

In order to participate in OGP, governments must exhibit a demonstrated commitment to open government by meeting a set of (minimum) performance criteria. Objective, third-party indicators are used to determine the extent of country progress on each of the criteria: fiscal transparency, public official’s asset disclosure, citizen engagement, and access to information. See Section VII: Eligibility Requirements for more details.

All OGP-participating governments develop OGP action plans that elaborate concrete commitments with the aim of changing practice beyond the status quo over a two-year period. The commitments may build on existing efforts, identify new steps to complete ongoing reforms, or initiate action in an entirely new area.

Australia developed its national action plan from November 2015 to December 2016. It was publicly released on 7 December 2016. The official implementation period for the action plan was 1 July 2016 through 30 June 2018. This year one report covers the action plan development process, and first official year of implementation from 1 July 2016 to 30 June 2017. Beginning in 2015, the IRM started publishing end-of-term reports on the final status of progress at the end of the action plan’s two-year period. Any activities or progress occurring after the first official year of implementation will be assessed in the end-of-term report. The government published its self-assessment in September 2017. A draft interim assessment was provided to the IRM researcher on 30 August 2017.

In order to meet OGP requirements, the Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM) of OGP has partnered with Daniel Stewart, Senior Lecturer at the Australian National University, who carried out this evaluation of the development and implementation of Australia’s first action plan. To gather the voices of multiple stakeholders, the IRM researcher held open meetings and individual interviews in Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne, as well as telephone and video-conferencing conversations. The IRM aims to inform ongoing dialogue around development and implementation of future commitments. Methods and sources are dealt with in Section VI of this report (Methodology and Sources).


[i] https://www.opengovpartnership.org/documents/australia-letter-of-intent-join-ogp. A further commitment to finalise Australia’s membership was made in November, 2015.


II. Context 
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The Australian Government developed the national action plan in the context of continued development of open government initiatives, including the enactment of public interest disclosure legislation and expanding use of open government data. However, in several areas the government has adopted measures inconsistent with open government values, and has shown a lack of commitment to significant open government reforms.

2.1 Background

Since its initial expression of intention to join OGP in May 2013, the Commonwealth government (i.e. the federal level government) has continued to develop significant measures relating to the OGP values of access to information, civic participation and public accountability. The enactment of the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013 significantly improved the protection of whistleblowers to facilitate the disclosure and investigation of wrongdoing and maladministration in the Commonwealth public sector.[1] The government also continued to increase its use of technology to encourage access and participation, including development of the data.gov.au space for deposit of open government data, and the Public Data Policy Statement committing the Commonwealth government to release of non-sensitive data as open by default.[2] These and a number of other important initiatives are included in the national action plan as efforts to date.

However, as detailed below, since 2013 there have also been a number of government initiatives which are at odds with OGP values.

Proposed abolition of the Australian Information Commissioner: The 2014-15 budget announced the abolition of the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC). OAIC had been established as a statutory agency in 2010 to provide independent oversight of privacy and access to information legislation and advance information policy and management across Australian Government agencies.[3] The introduction of the OAIC provided a two-tiered right to review, with all aspects of Commonwealth agency decisions relating to access to information decisions able to be reviewed both by the OAIC and the Commonwealth Administrative Appeals Tribunal. A review into the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Cth) (FOI Act)[4] had recommended that the two-tier external review model be ‘re-examined as part of a more comprehensive review of the FOI Act’.[5]

However, instead of a further review, the government introduced proposed legislation in 2014 to abolish the OAIC and its FOI functions, in what it claimed was an attempt to reduce costs, delays and complexity associated with two-tiered review.[6] Opposition to the Bill centered on the additional burden on applicants seeking review of access decisions, and the important role of the Information Commissioner in encouraging public access to government information.[7] The Bill was not brought for debate before Parliament, but the reduction of funding and succession of acting appointments to the role of Information Commissioner was widely criticised as undermining the effectiveness of the OAIC and access to government information more broadly.[8] The Bill eventually lapsed in 2016, and funding was partially restored in the 2016-17 budget.[9]
 

Retention and use of personal information: Legislation was introduced in 2014 requiring telecommunications companies to retain telecommunications metadata for two years. Amendments were introduced to address concerns raised over effects on privacy and journalistic freedom, including the need for warrants to access journalists’ information and increased oversight of decisions.[10] However, telecommunications providers and journalists have continued to raise concerns over the potential for a wide range of government bodies to access the information,[11] and the lack of transparency over access decisions.[12]

Various submissions to the Senate Community Affairs References Committee raised concerns over discouragement of public participation following the disclosure of personal information of welfare recipients who had publicly criticised the use of an automated debt recovery system.[13] The disclosure was justified as necessary for maintaining confidence in the system.[14] Amendments were also proposed to veterans’ entitlements legislation which would have allowed disclosure for similar purposes.[15]

Use of technology: Public confidence in the use of technology for the delivery of government services has also been affected. The Commonwealth Ombudsman criticised several aspects of the use of an automated system to identify and assist with the recovery of possible over-payments of welfare benefits used by the Department of Human Services, including that communication with those affected lacked transparency and usability.[16] The Minister for Human Services acknowledged that over a nine-month period the ‘Online Compliance Intervention system’ resulted in nearly 20,000 people being advised that they may owe a debt to the Commonwealth (though these were later revised to zero or reduced).[17]

The five-yearly census, collected online by default for the first time, was affected by substantial security and capacity concerns that prevented online access.[18] There have also been similar concerns raised over outages in online submission of taxation information.[19] The Digital Transformation Agency is currently conducting a review of digital service delivery.[20] Submissions to the Senate Economics Committee raised privacy concerns  in the context of the census over storage of personal information for the purposes of future longitudinal studies.[21]

Secrecy in the immigration context: Several CSOs and individuals interviewed in preparation of this report raised concerns over the transparency and accountability of Australia’s immigration processes.[22] A new national security agency, the Australian Border Force was established in 2014 and attracted widespread criticism for the lack of transparency of information relating to asylum seekers and other unauthorized boat arrivals.[23] Legislation introduced to govern immigration detention facilities[24] included secrecy provisions which may deter scrutiny and potentially interfere with the health and safety of persons held in the facilities.[25] A senate inquiry into conditions in an offshore Regional Processing Centre, established after more than 2,000 leaked reports of incidents within the Centre were published by the Guardian newspaper,[26] found that ‘no guarantee of transparency and accountability can be given until significant changes are made and accountability systems are put in place.’[27] Amendments to that legislation, to make clear that the intention was not to prevent people disclosing information that was in the public interest, have only recently been passed.[28]

National Security – Security agencies are generally exempt from access to information laws and general transparency institutions, subject instead to specialised, and generally more limited oversight mechanisms.[29] One of those mechanisms is the independent national security legislation monitor, which was introduced in 2010 to review the operation, effectiveness and implications of Australia’s counter-terrorism and national security legislation. The government proposed to abolish the position in 2014.[30] Since then, the role of the monitor in conducting reviews of national security laws, including calling for and publishing public submissions, has provided what the Law Council of Australia has considered a critical step in exposing the impact of such laws.[31]

Australia was one of the countries implicated in the revelations by whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013. In response, legislation[32] was introduced in 2014 to enhance penalties for the unauthorised use or communication of intelligence information.[33] Changes to telecommunications data retention[34] and immigration secrecy[35] have also been at least in part justified on the basis of national security concerns.
 

Parliamentary entitlements, donations and lobbying reform – On 1 July 2017 the Commonwealth government established the Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority to audit and report on parliamentarians' work expenses.[36] The Authority was established following several high-profile cases of politicians claiming expenses for non-parliamentary related business and calls for greater transparency and enforcement of parliamentary entitlements generally. A review of parliamentary entitlements in 2016 recommended more frequent reporting and publication of expenses claims,[37] as well as increased independent oversight. 

There have also been a number of high-profile examples of concerns raised over the regulation of lobbying, including former politicians leaving to take up related industry positions.[38] A 2014 review found that ‘Australian codes are, in general, far weaker than the strong statutory regimes operating in Canada and the United States’.[39]

Calls for lobbying reform have often drawn links with political donation regulation. The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, in light of submissions calling for more general lobbying reform as part of an inquiry into foreign donations (see the discussion of foreign donations in commitment 4.1), commented that it ‘supports improvements to the coverage and timeliness of disclosure regulations to improve transparency.’ The Joint Standing Committee recently released a discussion paper calling for submissions on political donations generally.[40]

Recent developments – In March 2017 the Productivity Commission released a detailed review of the use and disclosure of information by government.[41] While recommendations relating to consumer rights and safeguards for data are referred to as part of commitment 6 (Build and maintain public trust), the Commission’s report also touches on important issues relating to governance and management of government-held information generally. A cross-agency taskforce is still to publicly report on its review of the Commission’s recommendations, which is likely to give rise to a number of future commitments relating to open government.

Indigenous leaders have also criticised the government[42] for not supporting a proposal to establish a representative body that gives Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander First Nations a voice in the Australian Parliament,[43] which was developed following an extensive consultation process including dialogues with communities throughout Australia.[44]

Proposed changes to secrecy laws, foreign lobbying and charities. The government has also introduced legislation relating to changes to secrecy provisions and foreign donations, which have been criticised by civil society groups, charities and the media as restricting freedom of speech and public participation.[45] Development of a Department of Home Affairs reduces independence and accountability over national security agencies. Further discussion of these recent developments and their influence on the development of the next national action plan will be included in the end-of-term report.

2.2 Scope of Action Plan in Relation to National Context
 

Despite the areas of concern raised in the national context, the national action plan represents a recognition of the value of open government and the need for ongoing reform. Many of the concerns raised in the national context fall within one or more commitments under the existing action plan. For example, funding and the role of the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner could be considered as part of commitment 8 (information access and management). Concerns over parliamentary entitlements, donations and lobbying reform fall within the terms of commitment 11 (Confidence in the Electoral System) as they can be considered in the Joint Standing Committee’s Inquiry into Electoral Matters, and 4.2 National Integrity Framework (in considering the potential jurisdiction of anti-corruption bodies) without explicitly being included. The way agencies have handled personal information and use of technology in connection with debt recovery, the census or taxation affects the public’s trust in data sharing being developed under commitment 6. However, the current commitments do not squarely address the concerns raised by these elements of the national context.

Similarly, transparency and accountability of national security institutions and immigration systems is of considerable national importance. A range of civil society groups and individuals interviewed for this report raised the importance of measures including:

  • Assessment of the impact of data retention and other national security related measures providing for retention and access to personal information;
  • Review of the range of transparency and accountability measures applicable to agencies related to national security; and
  • review of the range of accountability and accountability measures in place as they operate in the immigration context.

The Australian Law Reform Commission produced a report in 2010 on the extent and variety of legislative provisions restricting use or disclosure of information.[46] The Commission recommended that a range of general secrecy provisions be amended to better reflect the concern with protecting the public interest, and that there be a review of the large number of more specific secrecy provisions currently included in Commonwealth legislation.
 

 
[1] Ian Moss, Review of the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013, July 2016, https://www.pmc.gov.au/resource-centre/government/review-public-interest-disclosure-act-2013; also Commonwealth Ombudsman, Public Interest Disclosure Act, http://www.ombudsman.gov.au/about/making-a-disclosure
[2] Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, ‘Australian Government Public Data Policy Statement’, 7 December 2015, https://www.pmc.gov.au/resource-centre/data/australian-government-public-data-policy-statement
[3] Parliamentary Library, Freedom of Information Amendment (New Arrangements) Bill 2014, Bills Digest No. 44, 2014-15.
[4] Australian Government, Review of the Freedom of Information Act 1982 and Australian Information Commissioner Act 2010, prepared by Alan Hawke, [the Hawke Review], Canberra, 2013.
[5] Hawke Review, above n.4, p. 37.
[6] Commonwealth, Parliamentary Debates, House of Representatives, 2 October 2014, 1107 (Scott Morrison).
[7] For example, Richard Mulgan, ‘How the FOI watchdog was starved to death’, Canberra Times, 3 June 2014, http://www.canberratimes.com.au/national/public-service/how-the-foi-watchdog-was-starved-to-death-20140601-39ckf.html.
[8] For example, Parliamentary Library, Freedom of Information Amendment (New Arrangements) Bill 2014, Bills Digest No. 44, 2014-15, at 4; Parliamentary Library, ‘Office of the Australian Information Commissioner: reinstatement of ongoing funding’, Budget Review 2016-17, Research Paper Series, 2015-16, 79-80, http://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/rp/BudgetReview201617/Office-AIC.
[9] Parliamentary Library, ‘Office of the Australian Information Commissioner: reinstatement of ongoing funding’, Budget Review 2016-17, Research Paper Series, 2015-16, 80.
[11] For example, ‘Australia’s data retention scheme is still a mess’, https://www.itnews.com.au/news/australias-data-retention-scheme-is-still-a-mess-456421
[13] Senate Community Affairs References Committee, Design, scope, cost-benefit analysis, contracts awarded and implementation associated with the Better Management of the Social Welfare System initiative, June 2017 at 26-27, https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Community_Affairs/SocialWelfareSystem.
[14] Senate Community Affairs References Committee, Design, scope, cost-benefit analysis, contracts awarded and implementation associated with the Better Management of the Social Welfare System initiative, June 2017 at 26.
[16] Commonwealth Ombudsman, Centrelink’s automated debt raising and recovery system, Report No.2: 2017, April 2017.
[18] Alistair MacGibbon, Review of the Events Surrounding the 2016 eCensus, Office of the Adviser to the Prime Minister on Cyber Security, October 2016.
[21] Senate Economics Reference Committee, 2016 Census: issues of trust, 24 November 2016, http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Economics/2016Census/Report.
[22] Peter Timmins, Convener AOGPN, Sydney NSW, 23 August 2017; Open Forum, Sydney, 22 August 2017.
[23] Savitri Taylor, ‘The Australian Border Force puts the final nail in transparency’s coffin’, The Conversation, 15 July  2015, http://theconversation.com/the-australian-border-force-puts-the-final-nail-in-transparencys-coffin-43617.
[24] Border Force Act 2015 (Cth)
[27] Select Committee on Recent Allegations relating to Conditions and Circumstances at the Regional Processing Centre at Nauru, Parliament of Australia, Recent Allegations relating to Conditions and Circumstances at the Regional Processing Centre at Nauru, Final Report, 31 August 2015, [5.9]
[29] Australian Law Reform Commission, Report No. 112: Secrecy Laws and Open Government In Australia, ‘Ch 16: Interactions with other laws’, https://www.alrc.gov.au/publications/16-interactions-other-laws/freedom-information.
[30] Independent National Security Legislation Monitor Repeal Bill 2014 (Cth) introduced in March 2014.
[32] National Security Legislation Amendment Bill 2014 (Cth)
[34] Attorney-General’s Department, ‘Data Retention’, https://www.ag.gov.au/dataretention.
[35] Nicola Bevitt, ‘the Australian Border Force Act 2015 (Cth) Secrecy Provisions - Borderline Unconstitutional’ [2017] Sydney Law Review 12, http://www9.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdoc/au/journals/SydLawRw//2017/12.html#fnB15; Jude McCulloch, ‘Mutated Conventions: How secrecy in the name of security harms democracy’, The Conversation, 10 December 2015, https://theconversation.com/mutated-conventions-how-secrecy-in-the-name-of-security-harms-democracy-49901.
[36] Establishment of the Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority, http://dofipeadev.prod.acquia-sites.com/about-ipea (originally accessed 18 August 2017, link updated on 6 April 2018).
[37] Review of Parliamentary Entitlements Committee Report, February 2016, http://www.finance.gov.au/publications/parliamentary-entitlements-review/
[39] Commonwealth Parliamentary Library, Who pays the piper? Rules for lobbying governments in Australia, Canada, UK and USA, research Paper Series 2-14-15, August 2014, http://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/rp/rp1415/LobbyingRules
[40] Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, Discussion paper for the inquiry into the conduct of the 2016 federal election: political donations, September 2017, http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Joint/Electoral_Matters/2016Election
[41] Productivity Commission, Data Availability and Use, March 2017.
[42] NITV, ‘Turnbull government formally rejects proposal for Indigenous voice to Parliament’, 26 October 2017, https://www.sbs.com.au/nitv/nitv-news/article/2017/10/26/turnbull-government-rejects-proposal-indigenous-voice-parliament.
[43] Final Report of the Referendum Council, Uluru Statement from the Heart, 30 June 2017, https://www.referendumcouncil.org.au/final-report
[44] Australian Parliamentary Library, ‘Uluru Statement: A quick guide’, Research Papers 2016-17, 19 June 2017, https://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/rp/rp1617/Quick_Guides/UluruStatement
[45] Johan Lidberg, ‘New bill would make Australia worst in the free world for criminalising journalism’, The Conversation, 1 February 2018, https://theconversation.com/new-bill-would-make-australia-worst-in-the-free-world-for-criminalising-journalism-90840; Paul Karp, ‘Foreign donation and charity law changes 'likely' to face high court challenge’, The Guardian, 12 January 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2018/jan/12/foreign-donation-and-charity-law-changes-likely-to-face-high-court-challenge.
[46] Australian Law Reform Commission, Secrecy Laws and Open Government in Australia (ALRC Report 112), 2010.

III. Leadership and Multistakeholder Process 
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The national action plan represents the contributions of a large number of government agencies, civil society groups and individuals. However, limited public awareness of the process meant that the contributions to the national action plan were largely limited to those groups with a pre-existing interest in open government. The establishment of a forum for on-going multi-stakeholder participation by the OGP lead agency was also delayed.

3.1 Leadership

This subsection describes the OGP leadership and institutional context for OGP in Australia. Table 3.1 summarizes this structure while the narrative section (below) provides additional detail.

 

Table 3.1: OGP Leadership

1. Structure

Yes

No

Is there a clearly designated Point of Contact for OGP (individual)?

 

 

Shared

Single

Is there a single lead agency on OGP efforts?

 

 

Yes

No

Is the head of government leading the OGP initiative?

 

2. Legal Mandate

Yes

No

Is the government’s commitment to OGP established through an official, publicly released mandate?

 

Is the government’s commitment to OGP established through a legally binding mandate?

 

3. Continuity and Instability

Yes

No

Was there a change in the organization(s) leading or involved with the OGP initiatives during the action plan implementation cycle?

 

Was there a change in the executive leader during the duration of the OGP action plan cycle?

 

 

Australia has a federal system of government with power divided between the national (“federal”) and state governments according to a constitution. The commitment to OGP was made by the federal government, with state governments being consulted as part of the development of the national action plan. The limited scope of the federal government to unilaterally effect change is reflected in the national action plan commitments being concentrated in areas within the federal government’s control or where intergovernmental cooperation is established.

Australia first indicated its intention to join OGP in May 2013 but did not take steps to finalise that membership until November 2015. Since that formal recommittal, the Minister for Finance has been responsible, on behalf of the Prime Minister, for co-ordinating Australia’s involvement in OGP. The Minister for Finance is responsible to Parliament for the Department of Finance, whose roles include governance and transformation of the public sector and efficiency of services to, and for, the Commonwealth government. The Minister is a senior Minister in the Government with sufficient influence to ensure participation of other government agencies in Australia’s OGP processes.

The Minister is supported by a dedicated open government secretariat within the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C). The secretariat supports overall coordination, monitoring and reporting of implementation activities.[i] Individual agencies have accepted responsibility for one or more commitments made under the national action plan. (See Table 3.1 on the leadership and mandate of OGP in Australia).

The OGP secretariat within the PM&C secretariat has the equivalent of approximately three full-time staff.[ii] While an election interrupted the development of the national action plan (see discussion below), the same government agencies and senior executive officers have generally continued to be involved with the development and implementation of Australia’s national action plan. There has, however, been substantial change in personnel within the OGP secretariat since the development of the national action plan.

There is individual budgetary allocation for some initiatives reflected in commitments under the national action plan, as indicated in the discussion of those commitments. However, there is no overall budgetary allocation for open government partnership activities, with government agencies generally expected to provide any resources required within normal operational budgets.

 

3.2 Intragovernmental Participation

This subsection describes which government institutions were involved at various stages in OGP. The next section will describe which nongovernmental organizations were involved in OGP.

Table 3.2 Participation in OGP by Government Institutions

How did institutions participate?

Ministries, Departments, and Agencies

Legislative

Judiciary (including quasi-judicial agencies)

Other (including constitutional independent or autonomous bodies)

Subnational Governments

Consult: These institutions observed or were invited to observe the action plan but may not be responsible for commitments in the action plan.

26[iii]

0

0

0

4[iv]

Propose: These institutions proposed commitments for inclusion in the action plan.

26

0

0

0

4

Implement:  These institutions are responsible for implementing commitments in the action plan whether or not they proposed the commitments.

10[v]

0[vi]

0

0

0

 

The pathway to completion of the national action plan in Australia involved two distinct phases. In November 2015, officers from within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) established a public consultation process which initially involved five stages:

  • Stage 1 sought feedback on the background to open government in Australia and a broad vision for the future as well as establishing the general framework for the national action plan.[vii]
  • Stage 2 solicited ideas for commitments, including through use of a public wiki, consultation with state, territory and local government bodies and various civil society and community organisations. This process also included a series of teleconferences held in March 2016 organised along themes developed out of the submissions received.[viii] The PM&C engaged consultants to assist with this process.[ix]
  • Stage 3 sought to prioritise proposed commitments for the purpose of inclusion in the national action plan. Sixty-three participants attended a one-day workshop in Canberra in April 2016, which included 16 federal government representatives, as well as representatives from the Queensland, Northern Territory and New South Wales (NSW) governments and the NSW information commissioner.[x] The workshop produced 14 draft commitments to assist with drafting of the national action plan.
  • Stages 4 (submission of a draft for government approval) and 5 (submission of the national action plan to OGP by July 2016) were also proposed.

However, in May 2016, an election to be held on 2 July 2016 was called prior to a draft being submitted for government approval. Conventions relating to the election period, which prevented the government from making major policy decisions that were likely to commit an incoming government, meant that no substantial further action was taken to develop and finalise the national action plan commitments.

As part of stage 2 of the initial phase of development of the action plan, an Interdepartmental Committee was established. This committee first met on 24 February 2016 and on three subsequent occasions leading up to submission of the national action plan. This Committee consisted of representatives from up to 26 federal government departments and agencies.[xi]

The role of the interdepartmental committee has included:

  • formulation of 11 commitments which were considered as part of the one-day workshop along with those submitted as part of the public consultation process.
  • consideration of the terms of reference and process for establishment of the interim working group
  • consideration of the results of the one-day workshop as well as the product of the interim working group
  • submission of the draft national action plan for government approval
  • overseeing implementation of the national action plan

 

The second phase of development of the national action plan followed the election and the return of the Liberal/National Party coalition government. The submission date for the draft action plan was extended to allow for a revised consultation process.[xii] In response to a request from civil society groups,[xiii] the government established an interim working group to consider and prioritise commitments for possible inclusion in the draft national action plan, with six representatives each from civil society groups and federal government agencies.[xiv] The NSW Information Commissioner was also included as a non-voting member. The interim working group met five times during development of the national action plan, including at a workshop attended by the Assistant Minister for Cities and Digital Transformation.[xv] The national action plan was submitted to the Open Government Partnership on 7 December 2016.

Table 3.2 above details the various government departments and agencies involved in the development and implementation to date of the national action plan. Overall, there was limited evidence of participation by the legislative and the judiciary. PM&C was also unable to provide information on involvement of state and territory governments beyond that indicated above.

3.3 Civil Society Engagement

The Australian OGP Civil Society Network had a particular influence on the development of the national action plan. Organisations and individuals interested in open government established this network in December 2015 following the Australian government’s recommitment to OGP. Its purpose is to engage with the government on development of the national action plan.[xvi]

As part of stage one of the consultation process set out above, the PM&C established the ‘ogpau’ website in mid-November 2015 and promoted the site through media releases and social media posts including Twitter and Facebook.[xvii] The website included links to an outline of the five-stage consultation process discussed above with indicative timeframes. This outline is no longer publicly available. PM&C has reported that over the course of the development process, more than 500 people and organisations registered through the website to receive updates on progress and opportunities to participate.[xviii] Public awareness workshops were held in December 2015 in Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne, with the Canberra event livestreamed.[xix] The government promoted these workshops for two weeks on its OGP Australia website (now hosted at ogpau.gov.au)  and notified registered individuals. Several civil society groups, including the Australian Open Government Network, also distributed information about the sessions through their mailing lists. They were attended by over 160 people in person and 45 watched online.[xx]

The call for public submissions and contributions to the public wiki in stage two resulted in 210 suggestions being made by 93 people or organisations over the course of four months, including the summer holiday period.[xxi] These submissions, along with a summary, were made publicly available on the OGP Australiawebsite.[xxii] Participants who had suggested a commitment were invited to the one-day workshop as part of stage three, with 36 participants from civil society taking part.

The interim working group was formed as part of the extended consultation process following the July 2016 election. The PM&C selected members of the group, after a week-long public call for expressions of interest, on the basis of breadth and diversity of representatives and experience in open government. Six members from civil society were selected from approximately 40 submissions,[xxiii] including the co-chair.[xxiv] 

Following development by the interim working group and the interdepartmental committee, a draft of the national action plan was opened to public consultation on 31 October 2016 with submissions due by 14 November 2016 (which was later extended to 18 November 2016). Public information sessions were also held in the cities of Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney, Perth and Canberra. There was no public information session in South Australia, Northern Territory or Tasmania. In addition, sessions were held through a webinar with more than 200 people participating.[xxv]

A review of the submissions received as part of the first phase of the consultation process and interviews with members of the interim working group suggests that there was limited participation in the development of the national action plan by the business sector.

In interviews in preparation of this report, civil society groups and individuals involved in the development process generally indicated that they had been given the opportunity to participate in the development of the action plan, at least following the extension of the consultation period and formation of the interim working group. The interim working group used submissions in the first phase of consultation, and the draft commitments developed in the one-day workshop, to further develop the action plan by increasing the breadth and ambition of the commitments when compared to early drafts.

While the consultation process was largely accessible throughout Australia, a number of people and organisations interviewed as part of this review have indicated that there was limited public awareness of, or confidence in, the open government process and the range of potential issues that might be engaged through the national action plan.[xxvi] This limited the influence of the consultation process and potentially restricted the breadth and ambition of the commitments ultimately put forward.

Countries participating in OGP follow a set of requirements for consultation during development, implementation, and review of their OGP action plan. Table 3.3 summarizes the performance of Australia during the 2016-2018 action plan.

Table 3.3: National OGP Process

Key Steps Followed: 6 of 7

Before

1. Timeline Process & Availability

2. Advance Notice

Timeline and process available online prior to consultation

Yes

No

Advance notice of consultation

Yes

No

 

 

3. Awareness Raising

4. Multiple Channels

Government carried out awareness-raising activities

Yes

No

4a. Online consultations:     

Yes

No

 

 

4b. In-person consultations:

Yes

No

 

5. Documentation & Feedback

Summary of comments provided

Yes

No

 

During

6. Regular Multistakeholder Forum

6a. Did a forum exist?

Yes

No

6b. Did it meet regularly?          

Yes

No

 

 

After

7. Government Self-Assessment Report

7a. Annual self-assessment report published?        

Yes

No

7b. Report available in English and administrative language?

Yes

No

 

 

7c. Two-week public comment period on report?

Yes

No

7d. Report responds to key IRM recommendations?

Yes

No

 

N/A

               

 

Table 3.4: Level of Public Influence

The IRM has adapted the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) “Spectrum of Participation” to apply to OGP.[xxvii] This spectrum shows the potential level of public influence on the contents of the action plan. In the spirit of OGP, most countries should aspire for “collaborative.”

Level of public input
During development of action plan
During implementation of action plan
Empower

The government handed decision-making power to members of the public.

 

 

Collaborate

There was iterative dialogue AND the public helped set the agenda.

 

Involve

The government gave feedback on how public inputs were considered.

 

Consult

The public could give inputs.

 

 

Inform

The government provided the public with information on the action plan.

 

 

No Consultation

No consultation

 

 

 

3.4 Consultation During Implementation

As part of their participation in OGP, governments commit to identify a forum to enable regular multi-stakeholder consultation on OGP implementation. This can be an existing entity or a new one. This section summarizes that information.

The establishment of a multi-stakeholder forum to oversee implementation of Australia’s commitments and to engage with civil society is included as commitment 14 of the national action plan. The interim working group, established as part of the developments of the action plan, continued to meet to monitor implementation of the plan and establish a permanent forum.[xxviii] A 15-week process to decide on the appointment and operation of the forum, now referred to as the Open Government Forum, began in April 2017. It consisted of inviting submissions on a proposal put forward by the interim working group established as part of the development of the action plan, a Twitter Q&A session and a public information session (parts of which were livestreamed online) held in Melbourne.[xxix]

As a result of that consultation process and recommendations put forward by the interim working group, the co-chairs of the interim working group opened a call for nominations for civil society positions on the forum on 8 June 2017.[xxx] A selection panel, consisting of the co-chairs of the interim working group and a member of civil society put forward by the interim working group, considered 25 nominations on the basis of:

  • their demonstrated support of OGP’s vision and the Open Government Declaration
  • their expertise relevant to the Open Government Partnership, including existing or probable future Australian Open Government commitments
  • their ability to engage broad and diverse community networks
  • their previous experience working with and influencing government
  • the desirability of maintaining some continuity between successive Forums, balanced with the desirability of reaching new communities and reflecting emerging open government priorities.[xxxi]

Appointments to the Forum were announced on 21 July 2017 and the first meeting was held on 28 July 2017.[xxxii] The Forum consists of representatives from eight government agencies and eight members from civil society, and is co-chaired. Ten male and six female members were appointed, including at least one with an indigenous heritage.[xxxiii] The members drawn from civil society act in a variety of capacities in non-government organisations as well as individuals with an interest in areas related to open government. A non-voting jurisdictional member, the current New South Wales Information Commissioner, was also invited to participate in the Forum. Four of the six civil society members of the interim working group were appointed to the forum. In addition, the government agencies represented on the interim working group, with the addition of a representative from the Digital Transformation Agency, continued to be represented on the Forum.

As the forum first met on 28 July 2017, table 3.3 above indicates that it did not meet regularly during the period of implementation considered in this report. However, since that first meeting the forum has met, and expects to continue to meet,  approximately every two months.[xxxiv] The meetings will be held in Canberra although it may meet in other locations and with provision for online participation. The meeting agenda, minutes and working documents from the first meeting were made publicly available online.[xxxv] In future the Forum intends to live-stream important proceedings and trial other methods of engagement.

One of the purposes of the Forum is to monitor implementation of the national action plan, including assessing and reporting on progress.[xxxvi] As part of this process the first meeting included representatives of government agencies with responsibility for commitments under the national action plan. The PM&C also established an online dashboard to record progress towards each of the commitment milestones. The dashboard, which was made publicly available after the first meeting of the Forum,[xxxvii] allows for public comments on each of the commitments. The PM&C intends to update this dashboard every two months in conjunction with a meeting of the Forum.

The Forum also has purposes related to developing future national action plans, including facilitating broad community engagement and raising awareness about open government generally, as well as seeking to improve government institutions through enhanced transparency, policy development, service delivery and decision making.[xxxviii]

3.5 Self-Assessment

The OGP Articles of Governance require that participating countries publish a self-assessment report three months after the end of the first year of implementation. The self-assessment report must be made available for public comments for a two-week period. This section assesses compliance with these requirements and the quality of the report.

A draft report was provided to the Open Government Forum, as well as the IRM researcher, on 30 August 2017. The PM&C released a revised draft for public comment for two weeks from 4-17 September 2017. The draft was available on the ogpau website and notices disseminated to individuals who had subscribed to receive news posted to that website and previous versions. PM&C made one post mentioning the mid-term self-assessment on Twitter.[xxxix] Individuals were able to submit public comments via the ogpau website.

There were three submissions on the self-assessment report, including one from a member of the Open Government Forum, and a submission from the Australian Open Government Partnership network. Some changes were made to the draft report as a result of the submissions, such as the inclusion of links to agency web pages and documents. Other comments made in submissions were interpreted as ‘general observations of Australia’s performance through its first OGP cycle’ or ‘went beyond the scope of the report’.[xl]

The final self-assessment report was approved by the Minister for Finance on 22 September 2017 and was submitted to the OGP support unit.[xli] The report includes a review of the consultation process during development of the national action plan as well as a discussion of the role of the forum and other forms of consultation during implementation of the plan. The report discusses all commitments in the action plan, including a discussion of the delays in implementing three commitments (3 Extractive industries transparency; 12 National integrity framework; and 13 Open contracting). Links to relevant documents or agency websites are included in the discussion of the commitments as evidence of completion levels.

 
[i] Interview with Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Canberra ACT, 8 September 2017
[ii] Interview with Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Canberra ACT, 8 September 2017.
[iii] Attorney-General’s Department, Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity, Australian Electoral Commission, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Australian Public Service Commission, Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, Department of Communications and the Arts, Department of Defence, Department of Education and Training, Department of Employment, Department of the Environment and Energy, Department of Finance, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Department of Health, Department of Human Services, Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development, Department of Social Services, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, The Treasury, Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Digital Transformation Agency, National Archives of Australia, Office of the Australian Information Commissioner. Note that these agencies represent those that were involved in the interdepartmental committee established during the initial phase 2 of development of the national action plan. Information on government agencies that were invited to participate but were not involved in proposing commitments for inclusion on the national action plan was not made available.
[iv] Representatives of the Queensland, Northern Territory and New South Wales (NSW) governments and the NSW information commissioner. Note that these agencies represent those that participated in the one-day workshop in Canberra on April 2016 (see PM&C, ‘Consultation Stage 2: Commitments Drafting and Live Event ‘, 14 December 2015, https://ogpau.pmc.gov.au/2015/12/14/consultation-stage-2-commitments-drafting-and-live-event (accessed 5/1/2018)). Information on local government bodies that were invited to participate but were not involved in proposing commitments for inclusion on the national action plan was not made available.
[v] Attorney-General’s Department, Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australian Electoral Commission, Department of the Environment and Energy, Department of Finance, Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, National Archives of Australia, Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, and The Treasury
[vi] Note that Commitments 1.1 and 4.2 involve establishing a parliamentary inquiry or responding to a parliamentary committee report. However, parliamentary bodies are not responsible for the commitments as set out in the national action plan.
[vii] PM&C, ‘Consultation Stage 1: Preparation, Framework and History ‘, 17 November 2015, https://ogpau.pmc.gov.au/2015/11/17/consultation-stage-1-preparation-framework-and-history)
[viii] PM&C, ‘OGPAU theme teleconference times ‘, 24 March 2016, https://ogpau.pmc.gov.au/2016/03/24/ogpau-theme-teleconference-times (accessed 5/1/2018).
[ix] PM&C, ‘Consultation Stage 2: Commitments Drafting and Live Event ‘, 14 December 2015, https://ogpau.pmc.gov.au/2015/12/14/consultation-stage-2-commitments-drafting-and-live-event (accessed 5/1/2018).
[x] PM&C, ‘Results of the co-creation workshop and ongoing engagement ‘, 18 April 2016, https://ogpau.pmc.gov.au/2016/04/18/results-co-creation-workshop-and-ongoing-engagement (accessed 5/1/2018).
[xi]  See note 3 above.
[xiii] Peter Timmins, Access to information advocate and Convener Australian Open Government Partnership Network, Sydney NSW, 23 August 2017; Australian Government Mid-Term Self-Assessment Report, at p5.
[xiv] The government agencies represented were Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Department of Finance, Attorney-General’s Department, The Treasury, Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, National Archives of Australia.
[xv] See the various reports on each of the meetings available at https://ogpau.pmc.gov.au/news/archives (accessed 6/4/2018).
[xvi] In addition to individual members, organisations initially represented included Transparency International Australia, Accountability Round Table, Open Australia Foundation, Blueprint for Free Speech, Electronic Frontiers Australia, Australian Privacy Foundation, Australian Press Council, Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, International Association for Public Participation, Open Knowledge Foundation Australia, Synod of Victoria and Tasmania, Uniting Church in Australia and Publish What You Pay Australia.
[xvii] Interview with Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Canberra ACT, 8 September 2017.
[xviii] Interview with Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Canberra ACT, 8 September 2017. Note that the original website used to document the development of the national action plan (https://ogpau.govspace.gov.au/) is no longer available.
[xix] Australian Government Mid-term Self-Assessment Report at p. 4. See also PM&C, ‘An update from the coordination team, and a reminder to contribute to Stage 2’, 22 December 2015, https://ogpau.pmc.gov.au/2015/12/22/update-coordination-team-and-reminder-contribute-stage-2 No longer available, accessed 2/1/2018).
[xx] Australian Government Mid-term Self-Assessment Report at p. 4.
[xxi] PM&C, ‘Stage three: prioritisation and drafting workshop ‘, 9 April 2016, available at https://ogpau.pmc.gov.au/2016/04/09/stage-three-prioritisation-and-drafting-workshop (No longer available, accessed 5/1/2018).
[xxii] PM&C, ‘Collation of suggested actions and comments ‘, 10 April 2016, https://ogpau.pmc.gov.au/2016/04/10/collation-suggested-actions-and-comments (No longer available, accessed 5/1/2018).
[xxiii] PM&C, ‘Submissions for the Interim Working Group are now closed’, 24 August 2016, https://ogpau.pmc.gov.au/2016/08/24/submissions-interim-working-group-are-now-closed.
[xxiv] Members came from organisations including the Law Council of Australia, Monash University, Uniting Church of Australia, Open Data Institute Queensland, Australian Open Government Network, and OpenAustralia Foundation.  See PM&C, ‘Announcing the members of the Interim Working Group for Australia’s OGP National Action Plan ‘, 30 August 2016, http://ogpau.pmc.gov.au/2016/08/30/announcing-members-interim-working-group-australia%E2%80%99s-ogp-national-action-plan
[xxv] PM&C, ‘Outcomes of OGP Public Information Sessions ‘, 15 November 2016, http://ogpau.pmc.gov.au/2016/11/15/outcomes-ogp-public-information-sessions. Note that no submissions or summary are now available.
[xxvi] This was the central issue raised in each of the three open forums in Sydney (22 August 2017), Melbourne (24 August 2017) and Canberra (29 August 2017).
[xxviii] PM&C, ‘Interim Working Group - Meeting 6: Agenda and papers’, 28 March 2017, https://ogpau.pmc.gov.au/2017/03/28/interim-working-group-meeting-6-agenda-and-papers; PM&C, ‘Interim working group meeting of 18 May: Agenda and papers’, 15 May 2017, https://ogpau.pmc.gov.au/2017/05/15/interim-working-group-meeting-18-may-agenda-and-papers.
[xxix] PM&C, ‘Establishing Australia's first Multi-stakeholder Forum: Three ways to have your say’, 1 May 2017, https://ogpau.pmc.gov.au/2017/05/01/establishing-australias-first-multistakeholder-forum-three-ways-have-your-say.
[xxxi] These criteria were made publicly available in the call for nominations: PM&C, Join Australia’s first Open Government Forum, 8 June 2017, https://ogpau.pmc.gov.au/2017/06/08/join-australias-first-open-government-forum.
[xxxiii] The selection process included notice that each gender would make up at least 40 per cent of positions on the Forum, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and young people were particularly encouraged to apply.
[xxxiv] Papers and minutes of the forum meetings are available at https://ogpau.pmc.gov.au/news/archives (accessed 6/4/2018).
[xxxvi] PM&C, Australia’s Open Government Forum, available from PM&C, Join Australia’s first Open Government Forum, 8 June 2017, at p 3, https://ogpau.pmc.gov.au/2017/06/08/join-australias-first-open-government-forum.
[xxxvii] The dashboard is available on the home page of the ogpau website: https://ogpau.pmc.gov.au/.
[xxxviii] PM&C, Australia’s Open Government Forum, available from PM&C, Join Australia’s first Open Government Forum, 8th June 2017, at p 3, https://ogpau.pmc.gov.au/2017/06/08/join-australias-first-open-government-forum.
[xl] PM&C, ‘Australia’s first Midterm Self-Assessment Report: Have your say by 17 September, 2017’, Comment by OGP Team, 19 September 2017, https://ogpau.pmc.gov.au/2017/09/04/australia%E2%80%99s-first-midterm-self-assessment-report-have-your-say-17-september-2017
[xli] PM&C, ‘Midterm Self-Assessment Report for Australia’s first Open Government National Action Plan 2016-18’, 26 September 2017, https://ogpau.pmc.gov.au/2017/09/26/midterm-self-assessment-report-australia%E2%80%99s-first-open-government-national-action-plan;  the report is available at https://www.opengovpartnership.org/documents/australia-mid-term-self-assessment-2016-2018

IV. Commitments 
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All OGP-participating governments develop OGP action plans that include concrete commitments over a two-year period. Governments begin their OGP action plans by sharing existing efforts related to open government, including specific strategies and ongoing programs.

Commitments should be appropriate to each country’s unique circumstances and challenges. OGP commitments should also be relevant to OGP values laid out in the OGP Articles of Governance and Open Government Declaration signed by all OGP-participating countries.[1]

What Makes a Good Commitment?

Recognizing that achieving open government commitments often involves a multiyear process, governments should attach time frames and benchmarks to their commitments that indicate what is to be accomplished each year, whenever possible. This report details each of the commitments the country included in its action plan and analyzes the first year of their implementation.

The indicators used by the IRM to evaluate commitments are as follows:

  • Specificity: This variable assesses the level of specificity and measurability of each commitment. The options are:
    • High: Commitment language provides clear, verifiable activities and measurable deliverables for achievement of the commitment’s objective.
    • Medium: Commitment language describes activity that is objectively verifiable and includes deliverables, but these deliverables are not clearly measurable or relevant to the achievement of the commitment’s objective.
    • Low: Commitment language describes activity that can be construed as verifiable but requires some interpretation on the part of the reader to identify what the activity sets out to do and determine what the deliverables would be.
    • None: Commitment language contains no measurable activity, deliverables, or milestones.
  • Relevance: This variable evaluates the commitment’s relevance to OGP values. Based on a close reading of the commitment text as stated in the action plan, the guiding questions to determine the relevance are:
    • Access to Information: Will the government disclose more information or improve the quality of the information disclosed to the public?
    • Civic Participation: Will the government create or improve opportunities or capabilities for the public to inform or influence decisions?
    • Public Accountability: Will the government create or improve opportunities to hold officials answerable for their actions?
    • Technology & Innovation for Transparency and Accountability: Will technological innovation be used in conjunction with one of the other three OGP values to advance either transparency or accountability?[2]
  • Potential impact: This variable assesses the potential impact of the commitment, if completed as written. The IRM researcher uses the text from the action plan to:
  • Identify the social, economic, political, or environmental problem;
  • Establish the status quo at the outset of the action plan; and
  • Assess the degree to which the commitment, if implemented, would impact performance and tackle the problem.

Starred commitments are considered exemplary OGP commitments. In order to receive a star, a commitment must meet several criteria:

  • Starred commitments will have “medium” or “high” specificity. A commitment must lay out clearly defined activities and steps to make a judgement about its potential impact.
  • The commitment’s language should make clear its relevance to opening government. Specifically, it must relate to at least one of the OGP values of Access to Information, Civic Participation, or Public Accountability.
  • The commitment would have a "transformative" potential impact if completely implemented.[3]
  • The government must make significant progress on this commitment during the action plan implementation period, receiving an assessment of "substantial" or "complete" implementation.

 

Based on these criteria, Australia’s action plan did not have any starred commitments

Finally, the tables in this section present an excerpt of the wealth of data the IRM collects during its progress reporting process. For the full dataset for Australia and all OGP-participating countries, see the OGP Explorer.[4]

General Overview of the Commitments

The action plan includes 15 commitments organised around five themes: Transparency and accountability in business; open data and digital transformation; access to government information; integrity in the public sector; and public participation and engagement. All but one of the commitments (Commitment 9 – understand the use of freedom of information) provides for action to be taken by Commonwealth government agencies, with some commitments involving milestones to be completed by different agencies.

Each of the commitments includes a number of milestones with start and end dates indicated for each, with some milestones broken down into further elements. The commitments in the national plan are numbered on the basis of the theme they relate to. In this report they have been numbered sequentially to avoid the confusion that comes from trying to identify individual elements.

 
[1] Open Government Partnership: Articles of Governance, June 2012 (Updated March 2014 and April 2015), https://www.opengovpartnership.org/sites/default/files/attachments/OGP_Articles-Gov_Apr-21-2015.pdf
[2] IRM Procedures Manual. Available at: http://www.opengovpartnership.org/sites/default/files/IRM-Procedures-Manual-v3_July-2016.docx
[3] The International Experts Panel changed this criterion in 2015. For more information visit: http://www.opengovpartnership.org/node/5919
[4] OGP Explorer: bit.ly/1KE2WIl 

V. General Recommendations 
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Development of the next national action plan should seek to engage with a wider range of interests, and seek more ambitious commitments, in order to more fully engage the wider community in open government initiatives.

This section aims to inform development of the next action plan and guide completion of the current action plan. It is divided into two sections: 1) those civil society and government priorities identified while elaborating this report and 2) the recommendations of the IRM.

5.1 Stakeholder Priorities

Individuals and organisations interviewed for this report took a variety of views on the current action plan. Civil society groups, such as Publish what you Pay and Transparency International (TI), emphasised the importance of changes to beneficial ownership and extractive industries transparency, and were strongly in support of these commitments to be strengthened in the next action plan. TI and the Accountability Round Table emphasised the extension of whistleblower protections and development of a broad based federal body to investigate corruption. Many groups and individuals were highly critical of the level of resourcing being provided to open government concerns, and the resourcing of the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner in particular. They emphasised the importance of including an examination of resourcing levels in the commitment to reviewing information management and access laws for the 21st century. A number of individuals were critical of the support provided by the government to community groups and individuals to facilitate participation in open government reforms.

There were also various concerns raised about trying to include greater representation of disadvantaged groups and other community sectors and interests in the next action plan, both through participation in its development and as the subject of commitments.

5.2 IRM Recommendations

Make decision-making structures within government more transparent

Commitments such as the digital transformation of government services and improving the discoverability and accessibility of government data are intended in part to make it easier for those outside of government to navigate government structures. However, as comments by civil society and individuals on some of the commitments suggest, many of the internal governance and decision-making structures within and between government agencies remain opaque. The overlap between government data, information and records management extends to the roles and responsibilities of agencies such as the Digital Transformation Agency, Attorney-General’s Department, National Archives of Australia and the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner. The responsibilities, deliberations and influence of internal groups such as the Secretaries Data Group, or the Internal Open Government Working group, are not clear.
 

Greater transparency over how decision making relating to open government commitments within and across government agencies is structured would make it easier for civil society groups to engage with government. It would also increase awareness of the degree of collaboration required within and between government agencies to achieve open government objectives.

Increase civil society collaboration in decision-making structures and processes

The commitments take a varied approach to collaboration with civil society groups, business or the community more generally. The work on enhancing public participation in government decision making (commitment 15) should be extended to set minimum requirements for consultation for all national action plan commitments in the future. This should extend beyond making recommendations to government after releasing a consultation paper and inviting submissions. Greater accountability over the consultative process could also be provided for, with commitments including obligations to report back and provide feedback on the use made of submissions or other participation.

Developing an ongoing relationship through development and resourcing of multi-stakeholder forums enhances the ability to identify emerging issues, develop and prioritise reform or policy proposals, and monitor and evaluate their effectiveness over time. The establishment of the expert panel as provided in commitment 6 (enhancing public trust in use of government data) could be a priority, with a role in the establishment, monitoring and evaluation of other projects involving government data integration and sharing.

The role of the Open Government Forum is an example of this collaborative approach. It would be expected that the Forum would take on an increasing role in acting as a hub between the government agencies involved with open government initiatives and broader stakeholder networks. A similar collaborative approach could be taken in each of the areas reflected in the current national action plan, such as business regulation, data access and management, integrity processes, or others possibly reflected in future national action plans, with communities of practice or sub-forums developed.

Alternatively, a federated approach could be taken with individual or groups of government agencies developing collaborative forums, feeding back into the Open Government Forum, or forming a network to inform cross-agency cooperation. This could be extended to include the sub-national level governments, or to draw in agencies and stakeholders in a broader range of interests than are currently reflected in the open government commitments to date.

Increase the ambition of the commitments

None of the commitments in the national action plan have been assessed as potentially transformative. Many are not sufficiently specific to be able to confidently assess their potential, others are limited by not going as far as they could in pursuing the principles of open government. The next action plan commitments could be open to at least publicly evaluating ambitious transparency, participation or accountability goals. They should be more specific in committing to particular substantive outcomes. These could include a public beneficial interests register, establishing a federal anti-corruption agency, lobbying reform, or reinstating and augmenting the role and resourcing of the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner in reforming agency information management practices.

Monitor and evaluate impact of open government initiatives

Processes to monitor and evaluate the impact of implemented commitments should be explicitly included in the next action plan through any collaborative forums established to develop and implement the commitment. This would facilitate the role of the Open Government Forum in monitoring the implementation of commitments and developing priorities for future action plans.
 

Broaden the range of stakeholders and interests reflected in the open government process

The national action plan is focused on commitments to be implemented by Commonwealth executive agencies. However, many of the initiatives reflected in the commitments incorporate involvement of state and territory governments, either through their involvement in portals such as data.gov.au, or through collecting information across different levels of government, such as the commitment to understand the use of freedom of information (Commitment 9). Future commitments to further integrate government information portals, such as grants or digital services marketplaces, harmonising approaches across state and territory governments, such as whistleblower protection, or indeed significant initiatives within individual states and territories should also be reflected in future action plans.

The range of interests reflected in developing future national action plans could be expanded to include groups not directly reflected in the current commitments, including groups representing indigenous, rural communities, disabled, elderly or otherwise politically or economically marginalised people. The diversity of the Open Government Forum and other collaborative groups established as part of open government processes could also be directly addressed in their design and practice.

Increase the resources available to deliver and evaluate open government objectives

Many of the current commitments are expected to be implemented within the existing operational budgets of the government agencies involved. Future commitments, particularly where they are ambitious and innovative, should reflect a transparent allocation of resources for their implementation. This should include facilitating contributions from civil society and other interested stakeholders through collaborative forms of engagement.

Enhance awareness, and support, for open government initiatives

Overall, the aims of increasing transparency, participation and accountability depend upon an awareness and support of open government initiatives, both within government and in the community. The willingness and capacity of civil society groups to participate in these initiatives and help drive reform is at least in part dependent on the perceived chance of effecting change due to the level of community and political support. All parties involved, therefore, have a responsibility to promote the open government process.

While there may be benefits from open government processes being politically neutral, the involvement of government and opposition ministers helps to promote the real benefits of open government initiatives. Rather than simply providing further opportunities to add to the competition for the attention of government, by reflecting genuinely collaborative processes open government initiatives can drive policy reform. Future action plans should, therefore, reflect a general commitment to open government principles and processes that goes beyond individual policy initiatives. This should include the commitment to specific, ambitious open government outcomes and a willingness to provide for greater accountability in their completion.
 


 

Table 5.1: Five Key Recommendations

 

1

Broaden the range of stakeholders and interests reflected in the open government process at the Commonwealth level, including increasing civil society collaboration in government decision-making structures and processes. This should at least result in a new commitment topic for the next action plan.

2

Develop a whole-of-government approach to enhancing awareness and support for open government initiatives, including by monitoring, evaluating and publicising their impact.

3

Establish a collaborative multi-stakeholder forum to work on establishing a federal anti-corruption agency and lobbying and political donation reform initiatives.

4

Detail a comprehensive process for reform of information management and access practices within Commonwealth government agencies, including the current and possible future roles of Archives, the Digital Transformation Agency, and the Australian Information Commissioner in that reform.

5

Expand the role of the Open Government Forum to include consideration of open government initiatives at the state and territory level to enhance coordination between jurisdictions and to explore development of sub-national open government commitments.

 


VI. Methodology and Sources 
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The IRM progress report is written by researchers based in each OGP-participating country. All IRM reports undergo a process of quality control to ensure that the highest standards of research and due diligence have been applied.

Analysis of progress on OGP action plans is a combination of interviews, desk research, and feedback from nongovernmental stakeholder meetings. The IRM report builds on the findings of the government’s own self-assessment report and any other assessments of progress put out by civil society, the private sector, or international organizations.

Each IRM researcher carries out stakeholder meetings to ensure an accurate portrayal of events. Given budgetary and calendar constraints, the IRM cannot consult all interested or affected parties. Consequently, the IRM strives for methodological transparency and therefore, where possible, makes public the process of stakeholder engagement in research (detailed later in this section.) Some contexts require anonymity of interviewees and the IRM reserves the right to remove personal identifying information of these participants. Due to the necessary limitations of the method, the IRM strongly encourages commentary on public drafts of each report.

Each report undergoes a four-step review and quality-control process:

  1. Staff review: IRM staff reviews the report for grammar, readability, content, and adherence to IRM methodology.
  2. International Experts Panel (IEP) review: IEP reviews the content of the report for rigorous evidence to support findings, evaluates the extent to which the action plan applies OGP values, and provides technical recommendations for improving the implementation of commitments and realization of OGP values through the action plan as a whole. (See below for IEP membership.)
  3. Prepublication review: Government and select civil society organizations are invited to provide comments on content of the draft IRM report.
  4. Public comment period: The public is invited to provide comments on the content of the draft IRM report.

This review process, including the procedure for incorporating comments received, is outlined in greater detail in Section III of the Procedures Manual.[1]

Interviews and Focus Groups

Each IRM researcher is required to hold at least one public information-gathering event. Researchers should make a genuine effort to invite stakeholders outside of the “usual suspects” list of invitees already participating in existing processes. Supplementary means may be needed to gather the inputs of stakeholders in a more meaningful way (e.g., online surveys, written responses, follow-up interviews). Additionally, researchers perform specific interviews with responsible agencies when the commitments require more information than is provided in the self-assessment or is accessible online.

There were three open invitation events held in Canberra as the capital city and where most Commonwealth departments are located, and the largest cities of Sydney and Melbourne. The IRM researcher advertised each event through email and social media, including distribution to the email lists of the Australian Open Government Network and the Department of PM&C’s Open Government Partnership mailing list.

  • Open forum, Sydney, 22 August 2017. Nine attendees including representatives from the Human Rights Law Centre, Australian Open Government Network, Internet Australia and NSW Information and Privacy Commission.
  • Open Forum, Melbourne, 24 August 2017. 11 attendees including representatives from Transparency International Australia, Accountability Round Table, Australian Citizens Against Corruption, Australian for War Powers Reform.
  • Open Forum, Canberra, 29 August 2017. 10 attendees.

Meetings with individuals and civil society representatives:

  • Ken Coghill, Monash University and Accountability Round Table, Canberra, ACT, 28 July 2017
  • Peter Timmins, Access to information advocate and Convener, Australian Open Government Partnership Network, Sydney NSW, 23 August 2017
  • Cameron Shorter, Open Source advocate,[2] Sydney NSW, 23 August 2017
  • Mel Flanagan, Director Nook Studios,[3] Sydney NSW, 23 August 2017
  • Jessie Cato, National Coordinator, Publish What You Pay Australia,[4] Melbourne VIC, 24 August 2017
  • Associate Professor Johan Lidberg, Monash University, Melbourne VIC, 25 August 2017
  • Professor AJ Brown, Griffith University and Director, Transparency International, Phone meeting, 1 September 2017
  • Anonymous, Open Government advocate, Phone meeting, 30 August 2017
  • Beth Slatyer, Canberra Alliance for Participatory Democracy, Canberra ACT, 6 September 2017
  • Greg Thompson, Board Member, Transparency International Australia, Phone meeting, 5 September 2017
  • Kat Szuminska, Director, Open Australia Foundation[5] and member, Open Government Forum, Phone meeting, 11 September 2017
  • Chris Snow, Canberra Alliance for Participatory Democracy, Phone meeting, 18 August 2017
     

Meetings with Government representatives:

  • NSW Information Commissioner, Sydney NSW, 23 August 2017 (commitment 9)
  • Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, Sydney NSW, 23 August 2017 (commitments 5, 6 and 8).
  • Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, Canberra ACT, 6 September 2017 (commitment 15)
  • Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Canberra ACT, 7 September 2017 (commitments 5 and 6)
  • Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, Canberra ACT, 8 September 2017 (commitment 3)
  • Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Canberra ACT, 8 September 2017 (commitment 14)
  • Attorney General’s Department, Canberra ACT, 8 September 2017 (commitments 4, 8 and 12)
  • Department of Finance, Canberra ACT, 12 September 2017 (commitments 10, 11 and 13)
  • National Archives of Australia, Canberra ACT, 14 September 2017 (commitment 10)
  • Treasury Department, Canberra ACT, 14 September 2017 (commitments 1 and 2)
  • Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Canberra ACT, 15 September 2017 (commitment 10)
  • Department of the Environment and Energy, Canberra ACT, 21 September 2017 (commitment 10)

 

About the Independent Reporting Mechanism

The IRM is a key means by which government, civil society, and the private sector can track government development and implementation of OGP action plans on an annual basis. The design of research and quality control of such reports is carried out by the International Experts Panel, comprised of experts in transparency, participation, accountability, and social science research methods.

The current membership of the International Experts Panel is

  • César Cruz-Rubio
  • Mary Francoli
  • Brendan Halloran
  • Jeff Lovitt
  • Fredline M’Cormack-Hale
  • Showers Mawowa
  • Juanita Olaya
  • Quentin Reed
  • Rick Snell
  • Jean-Patrick Villeneuve

A small staff based in Washington, DC, shepherds reports through the IRM process in close coordination with the researchers. Questions and comments about this report can be directed to the staff at irm@opengovpartnership.org

 

VII. Eligibility Requirements Annex

 

The OGP Support Unit collates eligibility criteria on an annual basis. These scores are presented below.[6] When appropriate, the IRM reports will discuss the context surrounding progress or regress on specific criteria in the Country Context section.

In September 2012, OGP officially encouraged governments to adopt ambitious commitments that relate to eligibility.

Table 7.1: Eligibility Annex for Australia

Criteria

2011

Current

Change

Explanation

Budget Transparency

ND

ND

No change

4 = Executive’s Budget Proposal and Audit Report published

2 = One of two published

0 = Neither published

Access to Information

4

4

No change

4 = Access to information (ATI) Law

3 = Constitutional ATI provision

1 = Draft ATI law

0 = No ATI law

Asset Declaration

4

4

No change

4 = Asset disclosure law, data public

2 = Asset disclosure law, no public data

0 = No law

Citizen Engagement

(Raw score)

4

(10.00)

4

(10.00)

No change

EIU Citizen Engagement Index raw score:

1 > 0

2 > 2.5

3 > 5

4 > 7.5

Total / Possible

(Percent)

12/12

(100%)

12/12

(100%)

No change

75% of possible points to be eligible

 

 
[1]  IRM Procedures Manual, V.3, https://www.opengovpartnership.org/documents/irm-procedures-manual
[6] For more information, see http://www.opengovpartnership.org/how-it-works/eligibility-criteria.