Friday, April 24, 2009

Australia 2020 Summit - The future of Australian governance

Here are "The future of Australian governance" items accepted by the Australian Government in its "Responding to the Australia 2020 Summit" on 22 April 2009:

Australia will face new challenges as it prepares for the future, and a new way of governing is needed to meet these challenges and help to shape the nation. The Government is enhancing cooperation and effectiveness across all levels of government, and is committed to increasing the transparency and accountability of government.

An example of the Government's new approach is the Community Cabinet process. This process has given a greater number of Australians an opportunity to meet Cabinet ministers and engage with them about important issues.

Another example is the 2020 Summit itself - a collaborative and dynamic process that brought together many people and generated many creative ideas.

The Summit's Governance Stream considered the breadth of issues relating to the future of Australia's governance. The development of a modern federation was a key theme, focusing on collaboration across all levels of government and with the community and private sectors. The Governance Stream considered that a modern Australia would include a reformed Australian Constitution that incorporates the rights and responsibilities of the Australian people.

An open, transparent and accountable government with integrity was also seen as a priority for the Governance Stream and many of the ideas were directed at achieving that objective.

The Governance Stream developed a broad range of ambitions, themes and ideas that have influenced and guided the Government's policy in this area, including:

  • COAG Reform Council - The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) is undertaking a wide range of major reforms to strengthen effective collaboration between the Commonwealth, state and territory governments. COAG has agreed to an expanded role for the independent COAG Reform Council, which will monitor the aggregate pace of activity in progressing COAG's agreed reform agenda.

  • Australian Council of Local Governments - The first meeting of the Australian Council of Local Governments (ACLG) was held on 18 November 2008, enhancing collaboration with local government. The Government is also committed to a full and frank dialogue through the ACLG on a process for moving towards the Constitutional recognition of Local Government.

  • Human Rights protection - In December 2008, the Government announced a national consultation with the Australian people on how to best protect human rights. The consultation will be led by a committee, which is due to report by 31 July 2009.

  • Freedom of Information Reform - The Government is undertaking broad reforms of the freedom of information system and is consulting with the public on its exposure draft legislation to improve and streamline the system.

  • Community engagement and e-governance - The Government is acting to increase the community's ability to interact with the parliament and the policy development processes of government, and to make information about policy issues available online.

The following tables provide the Government's response to the ideas raised by the Governance Stream at the 2020 Summit.

Key ideas being taken forward by the Government

Topic

2020 proposed ideas

Government response

Community Cabinet

  • Strengthen the capacity for non-government organisations to participate - for example, through a Community Cabinet.

Agree. Community Cabinet meetings are now held throughout Australia. They are part of the Prime Minister's commitment to ensure close consultation with the Australian people on the things that concern them, whether they are national or local matters. The 2020 Summit itself was also a successful example of non-government participation in the policy process.

Community Engagement

Also raised by:

Communities

Economy

Rural

  • An online portal, free and searchable government information, and a space for citizens to participate and share their views - ourgov.au

  • Establish a diverse set of community engagement mechanisms and multiple forms of participation to ensure public involvement, exploit opportunities from new technology.

  • National platforms for various citizen groups, creation of a national online service for young people or a national platform for community radios.

  • Establish a Commission for Participatory Democracy.

  • Suggestion box on government department websites for community feedback (on governance) - all communications must be answered.

  • AuSpan network - an Australian C-Span.

  • A public digital channel with access to policy debate.

  • An online channel for access to government information, including spending information and outcomes and providing for online parliament.

  • A public affairs digital network by 2020, with a high proportion of international work (65 per cent), book launches, interviews, and other public affairs broadcasts.

  • Empower citizens and communities to participate in decision-making processes - provide a context for and facilitate place-based community planning.

  • Define social citizenship and promote it - active, responsible social citizens, including organisations, not just individuals.

  • Establish a Charter of Community Engagement (similar to a Charter of Human Rights).

  • Establish an Office of Social Innovation and a Charter of Community Engagement. The Office would have equal government, corporate and non-profit funding, and its first task would be to develop a Charter of Community Engagement to outline how the government goes about engaging with the community in the process of developing and delivering public policy. This would include an agreement to take a national approach to community facilitation.

  • Introduce a Prime Minister's Grand Challenge Prize for solving big national challenges of a global nature-for example, climate change.

  • Strengthening the public policy debate.

  • Establishing a 'bottom-up' approach instead of a 'top-down' one, fostering an environment for experiments that are monitored, measured and shared with the public through the internet.

  • Communities having a say in what happens.

  • The Council of Australian Governments (key decision maker): building genuine public involvement into it.

  • Facilitation of local 2020 summits to empower communities and to inform the development of regional prospectuses to guide future development and support bids for funding.

  • Implementation of a citizens' cabinet from the United Kingdom, currently being trialled in Queensland.

  • New mechanisms for facilitating greater involvement of non-government organisations, as well as the arts and volunteer sectors, in the development of policies for remote, rural and regional Australia - particularly new climate change policies.

  • Policy making at the local and regional level

  • Improve deliberative democracy and equip citizens to participate in an engaged, modern democracy. This could be done by using online participation, citizens' juries, citizens' parliaments, citizens' assemblies, participatory budgets, sampling citizens randomly about different issues, informing citizens about the legislative process, participatory budgeting, 21st century and electronic town meetings.

  • Establish a permanent 2020 summit to increase committee function and increase discussion of day to day issues.

  • Develop deliberative and new forms of democracy on tough issues through citizen assembly, participatory budget, on-line capability, develop a citizen- or community-focused public service.

  • Better information delivery and hubs of civic participation, presence of government in the community-roving parliamentary sittings.

  • Deliberative inclusive processes that feed directly into government decision-making processes.

  • Engage the Australian community in the development of an ambitious long-term national strategic plan that delivers results.

  • Identify issues of national significance and a means to respond to them.

  • Empower citizens and communities to participate in decision-making processes - provide a context for and facilitate place based community planning

The Government agrees with the idea of enhancing community engagement. The Government's approach is to trial different and innovative mechanisms and draw on specific suggestions across several streams in that context.

For example the Government is committed to developing practical initiatives in e-governance that increase communities' ability to interact with the Parliament and the policy development processes of government. The Government is committed to making extensive information about policy issues available on-line to the community. The Government will develop better ways to increase interactive consultative processes using new technologies to communicate and hear from people. Some aspects of this work will be guided by the statutory Information Commissioner position, which the Government will be establishing as part of its Open Government reform agenda. As a first step, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet has sought expert advice on the enhancement of information and access to Commonwealth information and a whole-of-government approach to the development of an e-governance strategy.

The Government is also considering holding a set of forums that will bring together experts, business and community representatives and others with a strong interest in a number of topics to promote a collaborative approach to challenging issues and better inform government decision making.

Removing Discrimination

Also raised by:

Economy

Security

  • Unleashing Australian talent by removing direct and indirect discrimination, which means improving structural support, strengthening laws and creating public accountabilities beyond gender - that is, age, race and disability.

  • Review domestic legislation for human rights impacts and compliance.

Agree in-principle. On 10 December 2008, the Commonwealth Attorney-General announced a national consultation process on human rights and responsibilities in Australia. The consultation will be conducted in the first half of 2009 by a committee comprised of Father Frank Brennan SJ AO (Chair), Ms Tammy Williams, Ms Mary Kostakidis and Mr Mick Palmer AO APM.

The Government has recently taken some key steps to addressing issues of discrimination. For example, in July 2008, the Government ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and in December 2008, tabled a National Interest Analysis proposing that Australia accede to the Optional Protocol to the Convention. The Joint Standing Committee on Treaties reported its views on 12 March 2009 and recommended that Australia accede to the Optional Protocol.

In December 2008, the Government tabled draft Disability Standards to improve access to premises for persons with disabilities, and introduced legislation to implement recommendations of the Productivity Commission from 2004 to improve the operation of the Disability Discrimination Act.

The states and territories also have existing programs to address issues of discrimination.

Also in December 2008, the Government acceded to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

Human Rights Reform Package

Also raised by:

Communities

  • Australia should be a country where the respect and protection of the human rights of all people are maintained and strengthened.

  • There should be a national process to consult with all Australians as to how to best protect human rights.

  • A federal statutory bill or charter of rights (or alternatively, a parliamentary charter of rights) should be created in consultation with the Australian community.

  • The Charter should protect and promote all civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights and provide meaningful remedies where rights are violated. It should address the rights and responsibilities of all Australians, including Indigenous Australians.

  • The Charter should make human rights an integral part of law-making and policy-setting processes.

  • The Charter should require parliament to consider whether laws comply with human rights.

  • The Charter should enable courts to interpret laws consistently with human rights where possible and to identify laws that do not comply with human rights.

  • The Charter should provide accessible and appropriate remedies for human rights breaches.

  • There should be intensive, inclusive consultation with the community on rights and responsibilities—moving around local communities—framed in non-legal jargon and not pre‑determined by the Attorney‑General.

  • Introduction of a non-statutory Charter of Comprehensive Rights and Responsibilities.

  • The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission should have explicit extensive power over all human rights.

  • Embed a non-discriminatory clause in the Constitution (not the preamble).

On 10 December 2008, the Commonwealth Attorney-General announced a national consultation process on human rights and responsibilities in Australia. The consultation will be conducted in the first half of 2009 by a committee comprised of Father Frank Brennan SJ AO (Chair), Ms Tammy Williams, Ms Mary Kostakidis and Mr Mick Palmer AO APM. The consultation delivers a key election commitment made by the Government and provides an opportunity for all Australians to share their views on how human rights and responsibilities can be better recognised and protected.

The consultation will encourage broad community debate on a range of human rights issues, not only on whether a Charter or Bill of Rights is necessary. The consultation does not presuppose any outcome, although the Government has made it clear that any proposals must preserve the sovereignty of Parliament.

Freedom of Information Reform

  • Completely reforming freedom of information laws.

  • Appoint a Commissioner for Freedom of Information and conduct a full merits review.

  • Create an exemption test based on matters of essential public interest (e.g. national security).

  • Ensure that if public service documents are released in the public interest, they are free and accessible.

  • Release government and public service documents after 15 years instead of 30 years.

  • Reform the current freedom of information system by abolishing conclusive certificates.

Agree. The Government is moving ahead with broad reforms to the Freedom of Information (FOI) system and has released exposure draft legislation for public consultation. These reforms include the establishment of an Information Commissioner, a Freedom of Information Commissioner and other measures to improve and streamline the Freedom of Information Act ,and measures to reduce the open access period under the Archives Act for all documents from 30 down to 20 years and for Cabinet notebooks from 50 down to 30 years. Legislation to remove conclusive certificates has been introduced.

Electoral Reform - Advertising

  • Ban on government partisan advertising prior to the elections with the agreement of the Opposition, except for cases of emergency situations (a bird flu epidemic, for example).

Agree. The Government has implemented guidelines to govern Commonwealth Government campaign advertising to ensure that campaigns, at any time in the electoral cycle, are legitimately authorised, properly targeted and non-political. Any advertising proposed for the caretaker period prior to elections will only be undertaken following consultation with the Opposition.

Parliamentary Reform - General

  • Ministerial advisers should have to appear before parliamentary committees when they are taking executive decisions.

In June 2008, the Government introduced a Code of Conduct for Ministerial Staff that makes it clear that Staff are not to make executive decisions.

Parliamentary Reform - Review of the Legislative Instruments Act

  • Strengthen Parliamentary review of delegated legislation.

Agree. A review of the Legislative Instruments Act 2003 has been completed and the Attorney-General will table the report later in 2009.

Regulation - COAG Business Regulation and Competition Working Group

Also raised by:

Rural

Economy

  • Uniform regulation, licensing, standards and enforcement for transport (both road and rail) and agriculture.

  • Harmonisation of state and territory regulations, including the removal of impediments associated with access to drought assistance.

  • Cutting red tape in general and setting minimum red tape targets when introducing new polices for dealing with climate change.

  • Harmonisation of federal and state regulations to reduce duplication and the costs of doing business.

  • The speed of regulatory reform should be increased, including creation of seamless national markets in key areas.

  • Review regulatory regimes to encourage private investment.

  • Regulation to be seen in the context of allowing market solutions wherever possible to deal with social problems and externalities.

  • Establish uniform national laws for industry, trade, finance and property.

  • Uniform laws for human rights, resources and infrastructure, and workplace safety.

Agree in-principle. The 2020 Summit recognised the importance of regulatory reform and harmonisation of state and territory laws.

Many of the ideas discussed at the Summit reflect the work program of the Council of Australian Governments' (COAG) Business Regulation and Competition Working Group (BRCWG).

In December 2007, COAG established the BRCWG to deliver more consistent regulation across jurisdictions, reduce restrictions on competition in priority areas of the economy, and improve processes for regulation making and review. The work program includes reducing inconsistent and unnecessary regulation in 27 separate areas and delivering competition reform in eight agreed priority areas.

In November 2008, COAG agreed to the new National Partnership Agreement to Deliver a Seamless National Economy, under which the Commonwealth committed to provide funding to the states and territories of $550 million over five years. The payments are in two components; $100 million to facilitate the implementation of reforms, and $450 million in reward payments. The reforms, include nationally uniform OH&S laws, a national system for registering business names, and a national electronic conveyancing system.

Values and Civic Education

Also raised by:

Communities

  • Modify curricula from kindergarten to postgraduate education to include civic and moral education and engagement, social values and social inclusion in the education system which will ensure children are exposed to diverse value systems, other cultures and levels of disadvantage, with a specific focus on Indigenous issues.

  • Develop greater inclusion strategies at school to reduce exclusion and racism.

  • Provide active citizenship training as a universal component of primary and secondary school curricula and available to the broader community.

  • Incorporate active citizenship education as part of the school curriculum.

  • Develop and implement a national civics curriculum.

  • Establish a forum or audit to identify good practices and programs on values in Australia and internationally, using these to develop national programs.

  • Hold a national ethics and values convention every ten years or so to converse about our national key values.

The Government agrees with the importance of informed community discussion and education regarding Australian values.

Through the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians (released on 5 December 2008), the Government - along with state and territory governments - has agreed to work in collaboration with all school sectors to support all young Australians to become active and informed citizens.

The development of a national history curriculum will also provide significant opportunities for Australian students to access civics and citizenship education. The national history curriculum is being progressed by the Interim National Curriculum Board. Once operational, the national history curriculum will be developed by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority. The annual National Values Education Forum allows governments and the education community to engage in discussion about and develop best practices for values education.

The Australian Human Rights Commission plays an important role in educating and raising awareness about racism, racial vilification and harassment. The Commission delivers a range of educational programs that are specifically developed for young people.

The Government indicated in its November 2008 response to an independent review of the Australian Citizenship Test that work is underway on a whole-of-government approach to the promotion of civics and citizenship in the general community.

Formal Role for Local Government

  • Adopt a formal role for the most local level of government in adapting national policies.

Agree in-part. The Government has established the Australian Council of Local Government to give local government a direct voice into Commonwealth policy making, and help accelerate the implementation of program innovation, performance improvements and accountability in service delivery. The inaugural meeting of the Australian Council of Local Government (ACLG), held on 18 November at Parliament House Canberra, highlighted the Australian Government's agenda for forging a new and stronger partnership with local government.

Vision for Australia

  • Develop an agreed vision for the future of Australia.

Agree in-principle. The Australia 2020 Summit provided the Government with insight and guidance in developing a vision for the future. The Government will continue to consult with the nation in developing and adapting our vision for Australia.

Australia in a Global Context

  • Address Australia's sustainable growth and change in a global context.

Agree in-principle. The Government recognises the future challenges that the nation will face and is targeting policies at ensuring sustainable growth for the nation in the context of global challenges.

Modern Federation

  • Reinvigorate the Federation to enhance Australian democracy and make it work for all Australians by reviewing the roles, responsibilities, functions, structures and financial arrangements of governments.

  • An expert commission to propose a new mix of responsibilities.

  • Implementation by intergovernmental cooperation or referendum.

  • Hold a convention of the people, informed by the commission and by a process of deliberative democracy to get community input.

  • An integrated planning process across the Commonwealth and states levels: a new compact between the three levels of government based around redefining roles and responsibilities.

  • National planning framework concept: by 2020 design and implement a cooperative national/intergovernmental planning framework.

  • Establish an agreed policy position, including principles, to facilitate outcome-based decision making.

  • Reconcile conflicting state priorities in the national interest and align state, regional and local planning activities.

  • Achieve greater coordination and alignment between the governments (federal, state and local) of Australia.

  • Achieve greater coordination and alignment between the governments (federal, state and local) of Australia.

Agree in-part. There were many ideas from the 2020 Summit directed towards improving the way the Australian federation works. The Government agrees that improvements can be made, although it will not adopt all of the ideas from the Summit in the short term.

The Government's approach is to work collaboratively with the states and territories through the Council of Australian Governments (COAG). In November 2008, COAG committed to an historic new Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) on Federal Financial Relations which provides an overarching framework for the Commonwealth's financial relations with the states and territories.

The new federal financial framework began on 1 January 2009 and provides a solid foundation for COAG to pursue economic and social reforms to underpin growth, prosperity and social cohesion into the future. The IGA is supported by six new National Agreements in the areas of health, education, vocational education and training, disability services, housing, and Indigenous reform, and a range of National Partnership payments to fund specific projects and to facilitate and/or reward States that deliver on nationally significant reforms.

The new framework provides a clearer specification of roles and responsibilities of each level of government and an improved accountability for the delivery of outcomes.

COAG has also agreed to an expanded role for the COAG Reform Council (CRC). To enhance accountability, the CRC will report to the Prime Minister (as Chair of COAG) on the performance of all jurisdictions in relation to each National Agreement, and independently assess whether performance benchmarks have been achieved before an incentive payment to reward nationally significant reforms under a National Partnership is made. The CRC will also produce an analytical view of performance information for each Specific Purpose Payment.

The CRC also has a role in monitoring the aggregate pace of activity in progressing COAG's agreed reform agenda.

The Government will consider further options for modernising the federation once the outcomes of the current reforms have been assessed.

Open and Accountable Government

  • Whistleblower protection is respected and strengthened.

The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs tabled its report entitled 'Whistleblower protection: a comprehensive scheme for the Commonwealth public sector on 25 February 2009. The Government is now considering the report's recommendations and is committed to developing legislation to protect public interest disclosures within the public sector.

Media - Strengthen Free Press Protections

  • Government should be open and accountable and protections of free press should be strengthened.

    A Charter of Free Speech should be established to ensure that:

  • No journalist will face criminal proceedings for publishing information they receive from their sources in the official conduct of their duties

  • Effective shield laws are established for journalists, without the threat that they must reveal their sources

  • The journalists' 'code of ethics' is strengthened

  • There is a national commitment to protecting journalists or media producers.

The Attorney-General has introduced into Parliament amendments to the journalist shield provisions of the Commonwealth Evidence Act 1995. The Government has also raised the need for journalist shield laws in the States and Territories through the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General.

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