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Gillard Government pledges allegiance to open government, but timing will prevent immediate action

by Paris Cowan •
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In a move that came just the day before the announcement of the Federal election, Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner released the long-awaited Declaration of Open Government, emphasising that the Government’s commitment to Government 2.0 measures remains strong after the leadership change. 

However, the announcement of the election on Saturday 17 July now means that nothing concrete can now occur at an agency level on Gov 2.0 implementation until after the election on 21 August, due to the commencement of the Caretaker period

The declaration, published on the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) blog on Friday 16 July, comprehensively reflects the recommendations of the Government 2.0 Taskforce.

“The Australian Government now declares that, in order to promote greater participation in Australia’s democracy, it is committed to open government based on a culture of engagement, built on better access to and use of government held information, and sustained by the innovative use of technology” Minister Tanner said.

He explained that the Government’s approach to online engagement should be based around the principles of “informing, engaging and participating” and should aim to support key Government 2.0 programs and principles.

In December of last year, the Report of the Government 2.0 Taskforce recommended that the Government make a public pledge to pursuing open interaction and transparency with citizens via the online space.

The report said that the statement would need to encourage:

  • The use of technology to increase citizen engagement in the policy formation process, and to enhance the transparency of Government;
  • Maximising the value of public sector information by making it available for public use; and
  • The engagement of public servants online, as away to achieve professional development and to improve the performance of government agencies.

While the Declaration has attracted widespread praise, there are also concerns that Mr Tanner’s decision not to recontest the seat of Melbourne in the upcoming election may have a detrimental impact on the priority of Government 2.0 initiatives in the Gillard Government.  

Furthermore, the declaration has also been described as hypocritical by opponents of the Government’s proposed internet filter.  

Commenting on the AGIMO blog on Friday, a post from Gail Tuft asked: “How can the ‘Gillard government’ declare Open Government as a commitment when the same government is playing hardball on a mandatory secret censorship system?”

Restrictions placed on Government activity throughout the pre-election caretaker period also have the potential to impair the fulfilment of Government 2.0 ideals, at least for the coming weeks.

The Declaration of Open Government follows several other Government 2.0 related initiatives from the Labor Government, including the revamped Freedom of Information Act, the establishment of the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner and the release of the Ahead of the Game report which outlines the Government’s plans to reform the Australian Public Service.

The Liberal Party position on Government 2.0 is unknown, and it has been reported in the IT press that the Liberal’s ICT policy is not likely to be released until much later in the election campaign.

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