Transparency trashed, Official Information Act plans kept secret

The Official Information Act is supposed to enable public access to Government information. It is supposed to improve transparency.

So it is alarming that discussions on a review of the OIA are being kept secret, and are limited to some unnamed people – referred to as “a select group of chosen insiders”.

No Tight Turn: The government’s secret OIA plans

Back in September, when the government announced plans to increase proactive release of official information, we learned by accident that they were also considering another review of the OIA, and “intend[ed] to carry out targeted engagement to inform a decision on whether to progress a formal review”. As someone interested in OIA reform, I was naturally curious about this, so I sent an OIA off to Justice Minister Andrew Little seeking information about the proposal. I finally got the response back on Friday, after a month-long extension for “consultation”. Unfortunately, its not very informative.

You can read the released documents here. As is obvious, all interesting information about the proposal has been redacted. All their specific proposals for reform are secret, as is practically everyone they plan to consult in their “targeted engagement”. People with specific expertise in the law? Secret. Bloggers and commentators? Also secret. They do list some media organisations, and the members of the OGP Expert Advisory Group, but everyone else is secret.

Which is outrageous when you think about it.

It looks outrageous to me.

The OIA is quasi-constitutional legislation, something that belongs to (and affects) all of us. But rather than a full public consultation, they plan to privilege some voices over others, presenting their select secret proposals to a select secret group, then presenting the stovepiped results to us as a fait accompli. And they kept this entire process secret as well: they decided it all back in May, but never announced anything. The only reason we know about it at all is because of a passing reference in another document. Whether these are the actions of a government committed to transparency, accountability, and participation is left as an exercise for the reader.

We deserve better than this. Its not just politicians, journalists and trouble-making bloggers who use the OIA, but all of us. Steven Price’s 2005 study of the OIA contained an extensive list of examples of how ordinary citizens use the Act, and summed it up as “the stuff of democracy”.

According to the Ombudsman’s 2017-18 annual report, individuals made three times as many OIA complaints as journalists, and its 5.5 times as many when you look at the LGOIMA. In short, it’s our Act, not theirs. And any non-trivial changes to it require publicly consulting all of us, not just a select group of chosen insiders.

From Reddit:

As some of you like to point out, I don’t comment often here. I’ll make an exception today in order to endorse this post by No Right Turn, who is something of an authority on OIA issues.

Regardless of your political views, the Official Information Act is an incredibly important tool to hold those in power to account. It’s also one of the strongest freedom of information laws in the world.

Any changes to the OIA need to be taken seriously.

So how can we  demand inclusion in this review of the OIA?

Jacinda Ardern, in a speech at Auckland University of Technology, outlined 12 priorities “looking 30 years ahead, not just three”, which included:

  • transparent, transformative and compassionate government;

Bryce Edwards (1 News september 2017):

“Stylistically it was brilliant but it was fairly hollow in terms of substance,”

This seems to be a repeating theme with Ardern.

Under her leadership the only transformation in transparency appears to be towards more secrecy, and the review of the OIA suggests she is doing the opposite of what her hype has promised.

Leave a comment

27 Comments

  1. Noel

     /  November 20, 2018

    Can you post the Ombudsmen decision?

    Reply
  2. NOEL

     /  November 20, 2018

    Will you be seeking a review from the Ombudsman?

    Reply
  3. Was there any reform of the OIA under the John Key-led National Government, or just obfuscation?

    Reply
    • David

       /  November 20, 2018

      Was there any review under Muldoon or Lange or Savage. Did King George obfuscate what about the baby Jesus, what was going on during the big bang clearly nothing and the dinosaurs were typically slack and tardy.
      All that said who was it that campaigned on being the most transparent government ever ?

      Reply
  4. robertguyton

     /  November 20, 2018

    Good questions, David. They all failed to act on those topical issues. This Government though, has acted and is reviewing the Act. That’s admirable. As to transparency, the OIA is central to that. Improvements to it will bring the transparency you so yearn for (but somehow didn’t give a fig for when National were in Government).

    Reply
    • PDB

       /  November 20, 2018

      How can it be ‘admirable’ considering they have keep all their plans secret? What if their plans actually make the OIA process worse?

      The only thing we currently can go on is the Coalition govt’s track record of being the total opposite to ‘open and transparent’. Any review of the OIA should be fully transparent to all citizens and should involve all parties in parliament.

      Reply
      • robertguyton

         /  November 20, 2018

        “What if there plans actually make the OIA process worse?”
        Yeah!!!
        What if???
        I guess we’ll see.You’re convinced they will be worse, MUCH WORSE!!! where I suspect they’ll be an improvement on what we have now. It’s just how we roll, PDB. Has there been any explanation for the process being undertaken, or are we all just … spouting? What I see so far, is that the Government is testing the water to see if there’s a need for reviewing the Act:
        ““intend[ed] to carry out targeted engagement to inform a decision on whether to progress a formal review”.”
        I reckon you’re just blowing off steam, cause you’ve got a build-up.

        Reply
        • PDB

           /  November 20, 2018

          Robert: “You’re convinced they will be worse, MUCH WORSE!!!”

          Again you’re making shit up Robert as I said none of the sort. I said for all you know it could be worse but we don’t actually know anything because it is being done in secret.

          The post is regarding the process being done in secret (which we can all comment on) which even a less nutty left-winger than you can see isn’t the way to go. If they wanted to ‘test the water’ like you said then they should involve all parties in parliament and the process should be fully transparent to all citizens interested as the decision is bigger than the Coalition govt.

          Reply
          • adamsmith1922

             /  November 20, 2018

            Robert is unfortunately a persistent pest, rather like a cockroach

            Reply
          • robertguyton

             /  November 20, 2018

            PDB – are you sure you know what process it is being discussed? They’re scoping the need for changes to the OIA, not making those changes. Pause a little, PDB and think .

            Reply
            • PDB

               /  November 20, 2018

              I’ll write a bit slower for you Robert – any discussion/scoping regarding any changes to the OIA & who the govt is seeking advice from should be done with full visibility to the general public.

            • Kitty Catkin

               /  November 20, 2018

              Would any government have everything put out for all to see ? I think & hope not.

              But this one isn’t even doing what it said it would do.

            • robertguyton

               /  November 20, 2018

              PDB – nonsense. As Kitty said, some work will always be done “behind the scenes” and this scoping fits that description. In any case, you could OIA the details and then get all het-up when some of it’s redacted, as your hero, NoRightTurn has done!

            • PDB

               /  November 20, 2018

              What is nonsense is this govt promoting themselves as the most open and transparent govt ever with Curran having lead by example.

            • robertguyton

               /  November 20, 2018

              Get some perspective, PDB. Did you regard the Key-led National Government as an open and transparent one? If you did, you’d be nothing more than a deluded sycophant. Jacinda said she wants this Government to be the most open and transparent, but you’re jumping on every tiny detail as evidence that they aren’t succeeding. You’re a bit of a bore with it and seemingly unable to handle a nuanced discussion around it, but hey, you are one of those sycophants, as Gezza said, so I’m not surprised by your bloody/single-mindedness. All in all, ho hum.

            • PDB

               /  November 20, 2018

              On evidence thus far the John Key govt was more open and transparent than the current one, mind you that isn’t too difficult a task.

              The fact the open govt minister of the Coalition govt was demoted (eventually, after Ardern initially backed her in a poor piece of leadership) for not being open and transparent seems to have escaped you. No surprises there.

            • robertguyton

               /  November 20, 2018

              “On evidence thus far the John Key govt was more open and transparent than the current one,”
              Pfffffffffft!
              No. 1
              Saudi
              Sheep
              “Deal”.

            • Gezza

               /  November 20, 2018

              Don’t bloody bring me into this. I’m injured and on nurofen & paracetamol. So I’m especially emotionally bloody vulnerable at the moment. >:)

            • Gezza

               /  November 20, 2018

              Damn !

              😡

              See what you made me do , robert !

            • For a moment there, Gezza, I thought I’d exposed you as Murray McCully but now I see what you mean. I was also tempted to say, “take it on the chin”, but not funny, aye! Would it cheer you up if I told you I was nursing a cold, hence my prolific commenting today? I’m a bit low too, but not so low as to need painkillers!

            • Gezza

               /  November 20, 2018

              Actually I’m not sore, the nurofen is just to try and help reduce the swelling.

  5. PDB

     /  November 20, 2018

    A recent example of open and transparent govt;

    Reply
  6. alloytoo

     /  November 20, 2018

    Instead of open and transparent, most Orwellian government ever would be more accurate.

    Reply
  7. Fight4NZ

     /  November 20, 2018

    Labour are screwing it up the way they are hiding those details of things that haven’t happened yet. Any transparent government would have inconveniently forgotten those critical details everyone wanted and were entitled to know, repeatedly, incident after incident, it’s true, just completely gone from their memory, like hundreds of inconvenient texts. Pooof…

    Reply
  1. Transparency trashed, Official Information Act plans kept secret — Your NZ – NZ Conservative Coalition

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