Friday, June 21, 2013

What would a federal Coalition government mean for Government 2.0 in Australia?

A month ago (20 May) I sent an email to Malcolm Turnbull, Shadow Minister for Communications and Broadband, in my capacity as a Government 2.0 commentator, asking a range of questions about how a Coalition Government, if elected later this year, would approach Government 2.0 and federal agency use of social media in official engagement (the questions from my email are included at the end of this post).

Despite a quick exchange on Twitter several weeks ago, I've received no response to my email, or even an acknowledgement of receipt.

Some might say this isn't really a high profile issue for Australia - it's not like the economy, live exports, asylum seekers, climate change or education in terms of priority for the community.

Of course, the reality is more complex - Gov 2.0 crosses most government policy and focus areas, as a way of enabling better government, improving citizen engagement, improving transparency and accountability.

Therefore, at least in my view, a government's position on Gov 2.0 is fundamental to their approach on most policy areas - whether they engage the community effectively, are transparent, accountable and influential or whether a government is more concerned about control, shutting down sources of information and limiting public engagement.

As we've seen in successive state elections across Australia, a change of government can have a significant impact on the approach and substance of online engagement by agencies, due more to the experience and views of incoming Ministers and their advisers, rather than due to ideological differences around openness and transparency.

Victoria, NSW and Queensland in particular 'held their breath' for some time after a change in political leadership, although several of these states are now forging ahead with new initiatives.

Federally we've seen the Liberal party be cautious in how it approaches social media and online engagement, and the National party is even more so.

While some elected members of both Coalition parties use social media quite well, the actual parties themselves have, on occasion, expressed concern over the risk of prominent party member saying something online that paints a target on themselves - with the Sydney Morning Herald reporting in December 2012 that the Liberal party had slapped 'a social media gag on MPs'.

This was illustrated this week as the President of the Cessnock Hunter Young Liberals branch was suspended over Twitter comments.

Despite, or perhaps because of, this caution, the Financial Review recently reported that the Liberal Party now led Labor on the use of social media, however the real question for me is how will the Coalition's caution or capability in social media translate into their policy position for agencies.

Will the Coalition support and progress - even improve - the current initiatives underway across government, to release more data and encourage appropriate use of social media channels by agencies for communication, consultation and engagement purposes?

Will it embrace and take a global leadership role in Government 2.0, forging its own path, with clear executive support and commitment?

Or will an incoming Coalition Government put on hold or even shut down existing Gov 2.0 initiatives, including sites like data.gov.au, govspace.gov.au and transcribe.naa.gov.au?

Will it instruct agencies to reduce resourcing social media channels such as youtube.com/user/ImmiTV and facebook.com/FamiliesInAustralia, redirecting funds to traditional media?

Will the Coalition withdraw Australia from the Open Government Partnership (which we hadn't joined when I wrote my email below), as Russia recently did?

We simply don't yet know.

My email:

Dear Mr Turnbull,

I am Australia's leading blogger on egovernment and Government 2.0. My blog is syndicated on five continents and I speak frequently about Government 2.0 with Commonwealth agencies and state governments, as well as presenting at conferences here and overseas about the Australian Government's adoption of digital channels.

Given the increasing emphasis on open data, online public engagement and the use of social media by Commonwealth agencies, I would like to understand and report in my blog on the Coalition's Government 2.0 position and policies ahead of the next Federal election.

Please note this is not about IT spending, which often focuses on internal systems, neither is it about websites, which are still largely used in government for outbound communication.

It is about how government brings citizens inside the tent on decision making and improves transparency to deliver better governance, outcomes and efficiencies. 

I've included a number of questions below, and would appreciate any further information you can provide regarding the Coalition's policies in this area.

I understand these areas might not be considered as being within your portfolio and appreciate if you need to consult other Shadow Ministers.

I am also able to speak with you personally if that would be an easier way for you to respond. I am based in Canberra and could meet with you in a future sitting week.

  1. What is the Coalition's position on openness and transparency in government?

  2. The Labor Government, under Kevin Rudd, made a Declaration of Open Government (http://agimo.gov.au/2010/07/16/declaration-of-open-government/), via then Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner. 
    Does the Coalition, if it wins government, intend to endorse, amend, replace or rescind this Declaration of Open Government?

  3. In the latest Open Knowledge Foundation's Open Government Data Census, the Australian Government is ranked 4th behind the UK, US and Norway (http://census.okfn.org/country/). 
    Does the Coalition intend to take steps to improve the Australian Government's ranking in the Data Census should it be elected?

  4. The current Labor Government has not yet made a firm commitment to join the Open Government Partnership (www.opengovpartnership.org/), despite being invited to join in 2011 as a founding member. 58 countries are now members, with Australia increasingly conspicuous by its absence (http://www.itnews.com.au/News/295243,australia-reserves-open-government-decision.aspx). 
    What is the Coalition's position regarding Australian membership of the Open Government Partnership and will the Coalition take immediate steps should it be elected to government?

  5. In 2009 the Labor government released a beta open data site, which has subsequently been replaced with a more advanced site (http://data.gov.au/). The site has a very limited subset of data, frequently in non-reusable formats, and there is no clear mandate from the Prime Minister on government release of data, as there is in the UK, US, New Zealand, Singapore, in Queensland and NSW,  amongst over 50 other federal and state jurisdictions. 
    Would a Coalition government mandate that Commonwealth agencies release the majority of their data (where personal privacy, commercial confidence and national security are not a consideration) in machine-readable formats, as Premier Campbell Newman mandated last year in Queensland and President Obama recently mandated in the US?

  6. The current Labor Government has been criticised for not mandating Government 2.0 at a Prime Ministerial level or appointing a Minister to be responsible for overseeing the Australian Public Service to improve their openness and transparency and adopt Government 2.0 tools. Whereas the Queensland Premier Campbell Newman directly spoke on the matter and appointed Ray Stevens to the position of Assistant Minister for eGovernment to oversee the Queensland Government's move towards open data. 
    Would a Coalition Government appoint a Minister, Assistant Minister or Parliamentary Secretary for eGovernment or Government 2.0 to lead this area across government?

  7. The Australian Public Service is increasingly adopting social media as a business as usual channel for monitoring, communicating with and engaging companies, stakeholder groups and the community, however in the last APS report only 36% of APS had access to social media, there was no requirement for agencies to have social media policies or strategies and there were no formal training programs in place to ensure that the Australian Public Service had the skills to effectively engage via social media.
    While I have seen excellent social media engagement by the APS, I have also seen very poor engagement - most often from agencies which ban social media access to staff.

    Would a Coalition Government take any steps to ensure that the APS was adequately trained and equipped to take best advantage of social media?
(Note - I worked in roles leading online/social media initiatives within the APS from 2006 to 2012, and currently advise and train agencies in effective social media use)

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