Open Government: an opportunity to change the way governments are run and perceived

Grant Wardell-Johnson, Leader, Australian Tax Centre
Grant Wardell-Johnson, Leader, Australian Tax Centre

The Open Government Partnership is an international commitment that domestic governments agree to, aimed at making governments more open, accountable and responsive.

Australia’s first Open Government National Action Plan was released for public consultation and input by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet on 21 October 2016, re-affirming Australia’s commitment to the Partnership.

Transparency and dealing with government information often involves tricky issues of balancing rights to privacy, protection of commercial information to ensure competitiveness, ensuring costs of collating information are reasonable and that the measures adopted promote beneficial and not counter-productive behaviours.

But there are considerable benefits to come out of greater transparency and access to government data including:

  • Building trust in the community
  • Better educating the community on the operations and functions of government
  • Promotions of new ideas and encouraging innovation
  • Provision of opportunities arising from public data that could be exploited both here and internationally, and thus provide a boost to the economy
  • Improvement of the efficiency of government, including efficient across the three levels of government through a better understanding of respective responsibilities and linkages
  • Providing a better understanding of community needs.

This being said, as it stands, there are two additions to the National Action Plan we would suggest:

Firstly, the Final Working Group should contain additional representatives from the large business community and an umbrella professional business organisation. This would provide alternate perspectives on areas that the broad program may wish to explore.

Secondly, the production of “All Australian Government Accounts”, which would include Federal, State and Territory revenue, expenses and indebtedness, but also the allocation of Federal Government funds to each of the states and territories by function.

This would promote a better discussion on our Federation, greater accountability for spending, a better perspective for considering our future priorities and greater efficiency in the use of government funds.

This additional agenda item could also help the government open up the Federation Reform Agenda discussion again and provide better transparency in respect of the spending of the states. This is particularly pertinent  given the number of National Partnership Agreements are due to expire next year, such as the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness and the National Affordable Housing Agreement.

There is considerable opportunity to change the way governments are run and perceived, and a move towards an open, accessible form of governance is shaping up to be a good thing. The creation of a National Action Plan the first step of this commitment, and we eagerly await the outcome.

 

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