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‘It’s time Tony Abbott opened up his government’

Open government - is it a contradiction in terms?

Open government – is it a contradiction in terms?

Today I wrote an op-ed for the Guardian Australia, ‘It’s time Tony Abbott opened up his government’. The op-ed talks about the Abbott government’s recent less than helpful responses to media scrutiny and requests for information. Please have a read, share and/or make a comment.

Abbott proclaimed that the election was ‘all about trust’, but in power has thrown up significant obstacles to transparency. This week he has the opportunity to change

In the article, I also call on Tony Abbott to affirm his commitment to Australia becoming a member of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) and join 60 other nations in drawing up actions plans for greater government transparency.

The OGP summit begins this Thursday in London. Australia will be represented by Chief Technology Officer John Sheridan and James Kelly from the High Commission.

You can read the full article here and please join in the discussion!

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It’s a Gillard-hunt. Substance: zero.

It seems that nearly all of the Australian media have jumped on the ‘Let’s trip up Julia Gillard’ bandwagon. This is problematic in itself. What is even more problematic is that the media have confused Julia Gillard’s speech by assuming that in naming East Timor as a possible site for an offshore regional processing centre, she was committing to East Timor as the location and announcing a concrete policy. Well, she most certainly wasn’t. But this didn’t stop the media from having a field day all of last week about this issue.

What was most disappointing was the overt bias of some commentators:

Laurie Oakes: Julia Gillard just looked silly and slippery and slimy and shifty in all that and it’s a very, very bad start to her prime ministerial career.

Oakes: I think she’s done herself enormous damage.

And the fact that for nearly one whole week the media was in a constant flurry over two very minor issues:

1. That Gillard supposedly committed to East Timor as a location, and has now backtracked due to constant media attack.
2. That Gillard spoke with the East Timorese President Jose-Ramos Horta first instead of Prime Minister Gusmao.

Hello? Where is the substance? How is this newsworthy? And why do we care about these points so much that they should dominate the entire debate about asylum seekers? Note to the media: Tony Abbott also announced his policy, and where is the proper scrutiny of that?

All of this drama and myth-making can be cleared up quite easily. Let’s have a look at the actual speech made by Gillard at the Lowy Institute. I have included a few lines before and after she first mentions East Timor as a regional processing centre for contextual purposes.

We co-chair the Bali Process with Indonesia, and through this process we are working with our regional neighbours and key organizations like the UNHCR and the International Organisation for Migration to manage irregular migration and stop people smuggling – and can I say how much we appreciate and value our cooperation of Indonesia as co-chair.

We do these things because we believe that building a sustainable regional protection framework is the most effective way to address irregular migration, including to our country.

Building on the work already underway in the Bali Process, today I announce that we will begin a new initiative. In recent days I have discussed with President Ramos Horta of East Timor the possibility of establishing a regional processing centre for the purpose of receiving and processing irregular entrants to the region.

The purpose would be to ensure that people smugglers have no product to sell. A boat ride to Australia would just be a ticket back to the regional processing centre.

It would be to ensure that everyone is subject to a consistent, fair, assessment process. It would be to ensure that arriving by boat does not give anybody an advantage in the likelihood that they would end up settling in Australia or other countries of the region.

It would, of course, have to be properly run, properly auspiced, properly structured.

President Ramos Horta told me that he welcomed the conversation about this possibility and I look forward to further consultation and dialogue on developing this initiative into a proposal that would advance the proper and consistent treatment of people arriving without authorisation in our region.

I have also spoken to New Zealand’s Prime Minister about this possibility, and John said to me that he would be open to considering this initiative constructively.

East Timor and New Zealand are vital countries in this initiative as they are already signatories to the Refugee Convention, and New Zealand, like Australia, is a key resettlement country.

Her speech leaves nothing open to interpretation. It is as clear as day and Julia Gillard said herself throughout the week, “We’re in a dialogue with East Timor.” What part of dialogue and consultation don’t you understand?

On the point of consulting the President before the Prime Minister, yes, this may have been inappropriate or it may not have been. But it is certainly not the most important detail of Gillard’s entire Lowy speech and initiative announcement. And Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Stephen Smith, offers a reasonable response to this criticism. (See related links below)

So, to the Australian media, instead of trying bring down the newest Prime Minister by trying to find/fabricate a potential “stuff-up”, why don’t you do your job? Which I assume is to report the news, contribute to an intelligent debate, and provide a detailed and impartial analysis of (or considered opinion on) policy announcements by the Government and the Opposition. Thanks a lot.

Related Links:

Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s Lowy Institute Speech 6/07/2010

ABC PM – Lyndal Curtis interviews Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith 9/07/2010

ABC Insiders Program Transcript 11/07/2010 – Opening segment, featuring quotes from the last week in politics

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Like a bull at a gate…

A response to Paul Colgan’s article, ‘The Dili Proposal’ (6/7/2010), The Punch

With phrases such as “political correctness” and “racist” being bandied about for days, it is no wonder that the immediate response by many online commentators to the government’s new asylum seeker policy was reactionary, emotionally charged, ill-considered, and obscured by left-right posturing.

It seems that, with the increasing reliance upon online sources to provide up-to-the-minute news updates and analysis, accuracy and insight have been compromised. By trying to be the first to report and provide commentary on breaking news stories, such as Gillard’s new policy on asylum seekers, quality of information and journalistic integrity has been seriously compromised. If a journalist or blogger would just wait a moment, consider the primary sources, the emerging off-the-cuff commentary, and ponder deeply the nuances of the issue at hand, then the consumers of such content would be much better off.

It is also crucial to understand how such knee-jerk commentary can affect the tone and dialogue of this contentious national debate. It is time for commentators to attempt to be at their most impartial in order for this debate to involve the facts and practicalities of the situation at hand.

I will now provide a glaring example of such dangerous acts of haste. Paul Colgan, Managing Editor of The Punch, an online news source, posted an article, ‘The Dili Proposal’ at 1.30pm (6/7/10), just under two hours after Julia Gillard finished making her speech at the Lowy Institute. But unfortunately, Colgan’s article reveals a lack of understanding of Gillard’s speech and views, perhaps due to a hastiness in his production of such commentary.

Colgan ties two ideas in Gillard’s speech, Australia’s asylum seeker (not migrant) intake, with population sustainability. Thus, Colgan obscures the nuanced point Gillard actually makes when he writes that, ‘Given Gillard’s furious agreement that yes, the numbers of boat arrivals are tiny, the Prime Minister still casts this as being about “sustainability. Here’s the key part: …”.’

He then quotes (out of context) the first part of Gillard’s speech:

“In many faster growing parts of Australia – like western Sydney, south-east Queensland and the growth corridors of Wyndham and Melton, in my own electorate in Melbourne’s western suburbs – people would laugh if you told them population growth was intended to improve living standards.

People in these communities are on the front line of our population increase and they know that bigger isn’t necessarily better.

At the same time, other parts of Australia are crying out for more people – skilled workers to fill job vacancies in occupations like mining, health and aged care, and community services.

I regard this alone as a giant policy question for Australia.

It is truly the mismatch of modern Australia: communities with too many people and not enough jobs and then other communities with too many jobs and not enough people.

This is reason enough to declare that population policy should not be driven by an arbitrary single number.

Instead, I believe it must be driven by the needs and the circumstances of each region across the nation.”

But Colgan conveniently leaves out the next line:

“Instead, I believe it must be driven by the needs and the circumstances of each region across the nation. With this I have commissioned the Minister for Sustainable Population, Tony Burke, to develop a population strategy for a sustainable Australia.”

As yet, there is still no mention of asylum seekers in Julia Gillard’s speech. And why is this so? Because Julia Gillard did not suggest, directly or indirectly, that the nation’s border control policy and its annual intake of asylum seekers has anything to do with creating a sustainable population policy for Australia. In fact, she agrees with Julian Burnside QC, when he stated that, “it would take about 20 years to fill the MCG with boat people”. In Julia Gillard’s speech, she refers the issue of population sustainability on to the Minister responsible, Tony Burke. She then speaks a little further on the matter, and, completely separately, raises the issue of the government’s border protection policy. Not once in her speech does she link the two issues together. Although these broadly related issues are dealt with in the same speech, Gillard only ever links Australia’s overall migrant intake with the idea of a sustainable population policy, thus making Colgan’s closing two paragraphs incorrect and obsolete:

“But if the numbers are tiny against the total migrant intake, how can they have any effect on growth patterns, sustainable or otherwise?
They can’t. Numbers of people arriving by boat are nothing to do with sustainability and everything to do with electability.”

Yes, Paul Colgan, you are right. Boat people have nothing to do with sustainability. And no one, not even Prime Minister Julia Gillard was suggesting that. Thus, in this case, boat people also have nothing to do with electability. Perhaps a closer perusal of the primary information and a more careful consideration of the facts will be helpful next time you attempt to produce an accurate and insightful analysis of a news story. This example reveals the value of a carefully considered yet timely commentary of emerging news events rather than the publishing of a hasty, immediate and often inaccurate (and thus counter-productive) commentary.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s Speech to the Lowy Institute, 6 July 2010

‘The Dili Proposal’ by Paul Colgan, The Punch, 6 July 2010

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