The Government Response to the Report of the Government 2.0 Taskforce was released yesterday. Unlike the Henry tax review, most of this report’s recommendations were agreed to — at least on the surface. But it’s still merely the very first step and, like seemingly everything else on the Rudd government’s agenda, important aspects are running late.
The resulting report Engage: Getting on with Government 2.0 was almost a manifesto. Its central recommendation called for a declaration of open government.
“The Rudd government has accepted this recommendation and we expect to make such a declaration in the coming months,” wrote minister for finance and deregulation Lindsay Tanner on the AGIMO blog. A draft declaration will be presented to Parliament for adoption.
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Government data will be published at data.gov.au, and agencies will be able to record their initiatives and lessons learned in a forum at the existing govdex.gov.au site — though the latter will remain closed to the public.
The government also agreed to appoint a lead agency (finance and deregulation) and a steering group to co-ordinate Gov 2.0 efforts; to motherhood statements such as requiring departments to “create a culture that gives their staff an opportunity to experiment and develop new opportunities for engagement from their own initiative”; standard frameworks for metadata; greater accessibility for the disabled; and to the recommended bureaucratic framework for monitoring progress of all these reforms.
But on a key recommendation — No.6, that all public sector information should be open by default, with the government having to make the case for why information should not be released, that information should be free, easy to discover, freely re-usable, and published in machine-readable formats using open standards — agreement was only “in principle”.
The government says it’ll address all this under the new FOI framework to be created by the Freedom of Information (Reform) Bill 2009 and the Information Commissioner Bill 2009. While the information commissioner was to have been appointed in January, legislation has yet to make it through parliament. Special minister of state, Senator Joe Ludwig’s office says the government hopes to push it through the Senate in the May-June sittings. But there’s a backlog of Bills, and even if it does make it through the queue before the election, it’d still be months before a commissioner would be appointed.
Similarly the recommendation that, subject to security issues, submissions to public inquiries should be published online was only “agreed in principle”.
Copyright issues won’t be transferred as recommended to the Office of the Information Commissioner, a new agency that would presumably embody this new culture of openness, but will stay with the more risk-averse and restrictive Attorney-General’s department.
Andrew Colley’s piece in The Australian outlines opposition concerns that, as shadow special minister of state Senator Michael Ronaldson succinctly puts it, “The simple fact is that too much of this response is just blah, bureaucracy and boffin-speak.”
All in all, the Response is a reasonable statement of intent and a good start. But the Rudd government has a distinctly mixed record when it comes to turning good intentions into legislative and operational reality.