Australia may join Russia in reconsidering government transparency

Australia may join Russia in being one of the only countries to pull out of the global pledge for transparent government known as the Open Government Partnership.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

The Coalition government is reconsidering signing up to the Open Government Partnership that was announced under the former Labor government in 2013, a move that would see Australia join Russia in being the only two countries to pull out of the partnership.

The partnership, which currently has around 64 countries signatories including the United Kingdom, the United States, South Africa, Indonesia, Brazil, Mexico, and Norway, was launched in September 2011. Countries that sign onto the agreement have to pledge to put more information into the public domain and make it accessible to the public.

Following former Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus' announcement in May last year that Australia would sign onto the OGP, Australia is currently scheduled to officially join the partnership in May 2015, according to the OGP website.

But the election of the Coalition government may see Australia pull out of the partnership entirely.

At Budget Estimates last week, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said that Australia was still attenting meetings of the OGP in an "observer" capacity, but said it was an open question now as to whether the government would still sign up to the pledge for a more open and transparent government.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott was invited to an OGP meeting in Bali at the start of May, and he had been scheduled to attend but a late decision was made that saw the Prime Minister pull out of those meetings. Cormann said that the government had been "somewhat focused on the budget".

First Assistant Secretary for the Department of Finance John Sherdian told the committee that Australia has yet to complete all the tasks required to join the OGP.

"As I understand it, Australia has indicated its intention to join, but has not completed the activities that would enable us to do so. Since we had not competed them the day after we indicated our intention and still have not, I do not think that status has changed," he said.

He also confirmed that the only country in the world to pull out of the OGP is Russia. Cormann said that should Australia decide not to join, it would not be akin to pulling out.

"We think it is quite appropriate as a new government coming in, obviously within all of the priorities that we are dealing with, that we give due consideration to the government's intention in relation to this before proceeding. If you are trying to suggest that somehow we are keeping a particular type of company, I would not want people to go away with that impression," he said.

Responsibility for the OGP had originally sat in the Attorney-General's Department, but Sheridan confirmed that responsibility now sits with the Department of Finance.

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