Banned FOI lobby group will sit on new open government board

By Harley Dennett

Thursday September 1, 2016

The complainant, respondent and adjudicator of a Freedom of Information spat will all find themselves sharing duties to usher in Australia’s commitment to open government.

The new steering committee for Australia’s Open Government Partnership was announced yesterday, comprising a high powered team of Commonwealth deputy secretaries, the privacy and acting information commissioner, and civil society representatives. Among that last group included a representative of an FOI lobby group that was banned by a major federal agency last week.

The spat between the Australian Taxation Office and the Right To Know project of the OpenAustralia Foundation splashed across the media this week, after the ATO ceased complying with FOI requests from the site, citing systemic issues of management and privacy. An ATO spokesperson said:

“We are particularly concerned with the names of staff processing the FOI request being published on the website … Publishing all procedural material about FOI requests is not acceptable, nor is having no contact number, address or ability to respond promptly to email requests.”

Privacy commissioner Tim Pilgrim, another member of the steering committee, is investigating:

“This issue has recently been brought to our attention and we are in the process of making enquiries about the issue [and] as part of those enquiries will be making contact with the Right to Know website administrators.”

The Open Government Partnership interim working group will comprise equal representation of government officials and civil society members, and produce draft commitments for possible inclusion in Australia’s first OGP National Action Plan. Cabinet is expected to consider and confirm Australia’s commitments in the NAP by November 1.

Who’s on the open government committee?

Civil society will be represented by:

  • Ms Fiona McLeod SC (co-chair): President-elect of the Law Council of Australia;
  • The Hon. Dr Ken Coghill: Deputy Chair and Treasurer of the Accountability Round Table;
  • Ms Maree Adshead: CEO of ODI Queensland;
  • Mr Peter Timmins: Interim Convenor of the Australian OGP Civil Society Network;
  • Mr Mark Zirnsak: Director of Justice and International Mission, Synod of Victoria and Tasmania, Uniting Church in Australia; and
  • Ms Katherine Szuminska: Co-Founder and Director of the OpenAustralia Foundation.

The government representatives will be:

  • Dr Steven Kennedy (co-chair): Deputy Secretary, Innovation & Transformation, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet;
  • Dr Stein Helgeby: Deputy Secretary, Governance & APS Transformation, Department of Finance;
  • Mr Iain Anderson: Deputy Secretary, Civil Justice and Corporate Group, Attorney-General’s Department;
  • Mr Timothy Pilgrim: Australian Privacy Commissioner and Acting Australian Information Commissioner;
  • Ms Anne Lyons: Assistant Director-General, Government Information Assurance & Policy, National Archives of Australia; and
  • Senior executive (TBA): Treasury.

The NSW information commissioner Elizabeth Tydd will also be a non-voting jurisdictional member. PM&C says this reflects the Commonwealth’s desire to build stronger relationships with the states on open government matters.

Updates on Australia’s participation in the Open Government Partnership are published at the OGP Australia blog.

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