Appetite for transparency in Australia

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Since Publish What You Pay Australia was formed in 2011, Australia has had four Prime Ministers, including one who came back for a second (unsuccessful) go. For campaigners, the constantly changing political landscape has been challenging. However, there is much hope in civil society that stability is returning, and with it, an appetite for reform. Australia is currently in the midst of some of the biggest transparency and anti-corruption conversations we’ve had as a nation. Unfortunately these have translated into minimal tangible changes. Australia still has no mandatory disclosure legislation, and following a pilot of the EITI, has made no further steps towards implementation of its standard.

It is within this environment that PWYP Australia has been advocating to ensure that the Australian Government understands that mandatory disclosure and the implementation of the EITI are an integral part to any policy or legislative amendments aimed at increasing transparency and curbing corruption. To do that, PWYP Australia has been joined in its campaign by a visit from PWYP International Secretariat’s Advocacy Officer, James Royston. James and I have recently spent a week travelling Australia to engage with political, private sector and civil society members.

We began in Australia’s capital, Canberra, where we spent a hectic but productive day catching members of parliament between sittings. We were able to meet with representatives from Government and the opposition, and also from the Australian Greens, who currently have a Private Members Bill in the Senate on mandatory disclosure. It was heartening to see how many people were interested in meeting with us and learning more about how mandatory disclosure has come about in the EU and how this could be replicated here. Change won’t happen overnight, but at least the political will to have these conversations has returned to Canberra. PWYP Australia has made it very clear that we are ready and willing to support the Government in its work moving towards transparency.

Traveling to the other side of the country we spent a day in Perth, where amongst meetings with State Government, the Australian African Minerals and Energy Group (AAMEG) and coalition members, we hosted a roundtable at BHP Billiton. Attended by current and former representatives from organisations including BHP Billiton, South 32, Paladin and KPMG, a robust yet respectful conversation was had about how mandatory disclosure could work in Australia.

Importantly, we also spent time in Canberra, Perth, Melbourne and Sydney meeting with our coalition members. PWYP Australia is lucky to be supported by a coalition of some of Australia’s most active campaigning NGOs. Australia is geographically a large country, and face to face meetings can often be difficult to arrange, so it was great that so many members made an effort to meet with us.
While it was a busy trip and one with unseasonably cool and wet weather, which James seemed to have brought with him from the UK, it was a week that was of enormous benefit to the campaign. No doubt, there are obstacles ahead as Australia continues to move towards global standards, but with persistence, education and conversation, we are creating change.

This is the first blog in the series Life of a PWYP Coordinator.

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