Now that government has been formed, we get to return to business. This raises some real questions for those interested in Government 2.0 and open government in this country.
Given Labor has been returned, albeit in a singularly interesting and different form, the work of the last 18 months to reform government in Australia can continue. In her speech yesterday, the Prime Minister declared hers would be one of the most “open and accountable” governments Australia has ever had. Coupled with the Declaration of Open Government, this bodes well, but the Australian people, especially those of us actively interested in these things, should hold the government accountable for this declaration. This shouldn’t be too hard. I don’t believe these were empty words; I really do think that this government, and the APS, want to be more open.
We’re in a good position for a renaissance. Now that we have some parliamentary clarity and our friends working in federal departments can go on with business-as-usual, I hope very much that they feel in a position to act on the work of the previous government and its open government moves. Ideally, the new Ministry will include someone relatively senior with portfolio responsibility for open government; perhaps the new Finance Minister or Special Minister of State? We’re yet to know who those roles will be. Hopefully they will be filled with individuals as passionate as Lindsay Tanner was.
The work already underway in many agencies and the aforementioned Declaration are making things happen. Now, I’d like to see something like the Victorian Government’s Action Plan formed for Federal agencies; something that gives them a timetable and some actionable requirements. Having every Federal Government department with a Government 2.0 project announced and a schedule for adding datasets to data.australia.gov.au would go a long way to encouraging action.
As I and others have noted, this need not be done with massive urgency (we’ve all seen what overly urgent projects can do), nor does it necessarily need to be driven from the top. But it does need to be done, let’s say, by the end of the current financial year.
Much of what emerges in Australian Government 2.0 will come from within the public sector itself. This is a good thing, and likely to result in projects that address real needs, especially if agencies are listening to the needs and wants of the public that accesses their services.
One thing we do need, and soon, as I’ve written elsewhere, is a noisy catalyst in a senior position — a senior Minister, a very senior public servant or a high profile member of the public (or indeed, all three) continuing to push the open government agenda along in the public eye. Someone like Craig Newmark or Tim O’Reilly. I’m not sure such a person exists in Australia.
Of course, many open government efforts will continue to bubble along quietly. This is a good thing. But we need to make sure the issue remains high on the agenda.