Govt failing on Government 2.0: Turnbull

Govt failing on Government 2.0: Turnbull

Summary: Malcolm Turnbull has taken the government to task over its commitment to ensure open government, accusing it of failing to implement the recommendations laid out by Nicolas Gruen in his 2009 Government 2.0 Taskforce report.

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Malcolm Turnbull has taken the government to task over its commitment to ensure open government, accusing it of failing to implement the recommendations laid out by Nicolas Gruen in his 2009 Government 2.0 Taskforce report.

Turnbull called the government's commitment to open government half hearted, despite the government's declaration of open government in 2010.

Policies are not being formed with citizens in the front of mind, according to Turnbull, who accused the government of either not consulting with the public, or, when it does consult, of ignoring public submissions and viewing them as the work of the uneducated.

He used the Minerals Resource Rent Tax that has just passed the Senate, first introduced in 2010, as an example of policy that had been conducted in a smoky room with industry and without citizen advice.

"It was based on an elegant but utterly uncommercial assumption," he said. "Had it been exposed on the web, its commerciality would have been exposed."

He admitted that the idea of policy openness goes against elements of the Westminster system of government, which is for policy makers to be seen but not heard — and not to be public advocates.

"Government 2.0 does compromise that tradition," he said.

Thus, it isn't technology that is the problem with getting governments to engage with citizens, he said, but rather "technology imagination".

"To make Government 2.0 work, it requires a change in the mindset of public servants and politicians."

He said that politicians like himself would have to become more disciplined, not letting the media railroad them into definitive policy statements, instead laying the options out for citizens to consider and comment on.

"What politicians have to do is talk knowledgeably about [policies], canvas a few pros and cons," he said.

The important thing is to engage, not condemn, he said.

"Governments have traditionally seen freedom of information as being a heavy price that they have to pay for living in a democracy.

"This assumption ... is absolutely wrong. Yes, it is a price ... but my point is that we will have better policy outcomes if we are prepared to engage."

The Australian Information Office has been leading Government 2.0 since the Government 2.0 Taskforce report, publishing updates on the government's progress. Since then, the government has implement freedom of information (FOI) reforms for openness, and has attempted to consult online with citizens. It has begun a register of the online efforts of agencies, and has also released a guide for publishing public-sector information. Data.gov.au, a site that sees government information released to the public for use by developers, also got off the ground at the end of 2009.

The FOI reforms haven't erased all issues with government disclosure, however; the Greens party said today that it would put forward a motion in the Senate that the government disclose information about meetings that it is holding with rights holders and internet service providers (ISPs) on how best to tackle piracy online. Delimiter requested information on the meetings, but only received documents that had been heavily redacted.

In October 2011, AGIMO's first assistant secretary John Sheridan laid out some of the challenges of moving to Government 2.0 on the AGIMO blog.

These challenges include the argumentative and abusive nature of people contributing to online discussions; the challenges of keeping up with changing technology; the problems with building websites for collaboration and then waiting for citizen engagement that never arrives; and ensuring the realisation that canvassing opinions isn't about collecting likes.

Topics: Government, Government AU, Social Enterprise

Suzanne Tindal

About Suzanne Tindal

Suzanne Tindal cut her teeth at ZDNet.com.au as the site's telecommunications reporter, a role that saw her break some of the biggest stories associated with the National Broadband Network process. She then turned her attention to all matters in government and corporate ICT circles. Now she's taking on the whole gamut as news editor for the site.

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  • Turnbull’s argument is weak at best. One only need look at the Gov 2.0 register on the AGIMO blog, the FOI and Information Publication Scheme and data.gov.au to see that the government is making huge steps towards becoming more open and transparent through the use of web 2.0.
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