Critics attack government declaration of open government

Polarised policies on government engagement and mandatory Internet filtering seized by critics in vocal attacks

The Federal Government's use of its fledgling blog to publish its declaration of open government last week has stimulated a vigorous debate about the initiative -- with some commenters offering their congratulations, and others condemnation over what they see as the contrasting mandatory internet filtering initiative.

The declaration was issued by outgoing Finance and Deregulation minister Lindsay Tanner last week, who stated:

“The Australian Government now declares that, in order to promote greater participation in Australia's democracy, it is committed to open government based on a culture of engagement, built on better access to and use of government-held information and sustained by the innovative use of technology.”

“Hooray! Congratulations to all, you worked so hard to make this happen. Let's hope Government departments start walking the talk,” wrote one of the first commenters on the blog operated by the Australian Government Information Management Office. A number of other comments echoed the praise for the initiative.

“Congratulations from Canada, most specifically the City of Edmonton. We applauded the leadership that you have provided, Senator Lundy (and team) to Australia and to the world,” said a poster who appeared to be Chris Moore, City of Edmonton chief information officer, referring to Lundy's efforts in the field. There were also posts from other international locations such as Mexico and the Netherlands.

However, the thread quickly degenerated into a debate about whether Federal Government's stance on open government was hypocritical, given its concurrent plans to implement a mandatory internet filtering system on the nation.

“How can the Gillard government declare open government as a commitment when the same government is playing hardball on a mandatory secret censorship system?” questioned one commenter. “You can't have both. You are are either open and treating Australian adults as adults in the modern world, or you are censoring and treating Australian adults as though they are children.”

Other commenters pointed out that freedom of information requests regarding the filter had been denied, and raised concerns about the controversial data retention proposal being investigated by the Attorney-General's Department, which the department has refused to answer detailed questions about.

A post by Lundy on her own blog welcoming the Open Government declaration similarly attracted criticism from commenters about what they saw as the hypocritical stance of the government.

Social media consultant Stephen Collins, who founded the acidlabs consultancy, wrote on his blog this morning that he understood the criticism.

“As ever with these things, there is a great deal of commentary from those who see both positives and negatives in this action, with many accusing the current (now caretaker) government of disingenuousness in making the declaration now.”

However Collins noted that a distinction needed to be made in terms of the Open Government policy that it primarily related to the public sector rather than to the legislative arm of government – politicians.

“It needs to be made abundantly clear that the Declaration of Open Government has no direct connection to the government’s filtering and other related policies. Those filling the comments at the announcement are shouting at the wrong place. In the wrong way. As Stilgherrian noted recently at ABC Unleashed, viewing all policies and changes through this prism is misguided.”

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