Briefings to Incoming Ministers

The Briefings to Incoming Ministers (170+ documents) were published today:

Briefings to Incoming Ministers (BIMs) are to be made public today in one block, in another sign of the Government’s commitment to be open and transparent, State Services Minister Chris Hipkins says.

More than 170 documents will be published at midday on the Beehive website. They include BIMs for public sector agencies and Crown Entities, as well as supporting documents.

“The comprehensive release of BIMs in one go and in one place provides the public with a full picture of the issues the new government faces.

“While the documents contain a huge amount of information, we considered this to be a better approach than releasing BIMs one by one over time, which has happened in the past. It gets everything out in the open at the same time.”

“The documents reveal significant challenges, particularly in health, housing and social development. We will meet these challenges head on.

“They reinforce the need for urgent action in some areas. In our first 100 days, we’re already delivering meaningful change.”

The documents released are in the following categories:

NZ Herald: Briefings to incoming ministers: Highlights

Government not walking the transparency talk

Prior to and on becoming Government Labour and the Greens talked the transparancy talk.

From the Labour-Green Confidence and Supply Agreement:

20. Strengthen New Zealand’s democracy by increasing public participation, openness, and transparency around official information.

From Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s Speech from the Throne:

This government will foster a more open and democratic society. It will strengthen transparency around official information.

But they are not walking the walk – instead they seem to be sticking a finger up to the Opposition and to media.

The refusal of Ministers to properly answer written questions is covered here: Parliamentary question spat

Media are also getting frustrated at being denied information they should be provided with.

Stacey Kirk in Labour promised transparency in Government, but they seem to be buckling on that early

Labour is also yet to release what’s known as the “Briefings to Incoming Ministers” – or BIMs.

They are the documents prepared by the experts and officials, delivered to ministers in their first week to give them a crash course on the portfolio they’ve just been handed – in some cases rendering them responsible overnight for the spending of public funds totalling billions.

All of them have been requested under the Official Information Act by reporters across New Zealand. All of them have been denied by the Government on the grounds they’re about to be released publicly anyway.

The trouble with that is the law actually applies to occasions where the document in question is yet to be printed or the minister hasn’t had a chance to read it first.

These were read by the ministers more than a month ago, and its understood to decision on when to release the BIMs – state sector wide – is to come from the Prime Minister’s Office.

“[The section] should not be used to delay the release of information which is intended to be incorporated in other material which, although to be made public at a later date, may still require the making of other policy decisions,” is the expressed order of the Ombudsman.

Kirk also comments on the written question spat:

They can lodge questions to ministers on matters related to their portfolios, and ministers must respond within six working days. There is no limit as to how many questions can be lodged, they must be concise and targeted.

Undoubtedly, 6000 written questions in a month is a lot.

But is it fair to demand those answers? Absolutely. Is it hypocritical of National to be complaining they’re being blocked? You bet. Does that matter? Not one bit.

Because the answers, or at least the willingness to provide those answers, benefit New Zealand as a democracy.

In July 2010 Labour asked 8791 questions in a single month.

More than 7000 of those questions came from MP Trevor Mallard alone.

Now in the Speaker’s chair, it’s his jurisdiction to force answers where they are not fairly being withheld if a complaint is laid.

Labour is getting off to a poor start on transparency.

That’s certainly how it looks, and it seems a deliberate tactic not to be transparent.

Where is Jacinda Ardern’s leadership on this? She has promoted absolute transparency. Like in Debate #1:

Ardern managed to get in a couple of references to the generation factor, including “your generation” directed at her opponent. He pushed hard at the tax nerve, and Ardern’s response was all about being “absolutely transparent”, which is evidently a cousin of relentlessly positive.

But the even then the walk didn’t match the talk.

Ardern’s insistence she was being “transparent” and “clear” about her refusal to reveal any detail on tax – or really anything much at all – started to grate as the hour progressed.

And at election time:

Ardern unilaterally ditched her party’s commitment not to implement tax changes in a first term, declaring herself absolutely transparent about profound uncertainty.

Ardern in particular has benefited from at times very favourable media coverage, but transparency alarm bells have also been sounded, during the campaign and since.



“This government will foster a more open and democratic society. It will strengthen transparency around official information.”

Ardern and her Government need to start walking that talk.

Otherwise he light may be shone through a thin veneer of Ardern insincerity and Government bull.

If journalists don’t get Government information they are entitled to they may get increasingly grumpy.

They may be more inclined towards their own transparency tricks “allowing light to pass through so that objects behind can be distinctly seen”.