Last week I argued strongly that we needed full transparency over Cabinet Office advice on ministers' conflicts of interest, because we couldn't trust the Prime Minister to represent that advice accurately, and we couldn't trust secret advice to be accurate. And John Key has just proven my point for me:
Prime Minister John Key has admitted he misled reporters over Cabinet Office advice about a controversial visit by Justice Minister Judith Collins to a Chinese company associated with her husband while on an official trip to China.
On Monday Key told media the Cabinet Office had cleared Collins of a conflict of interest after translating comments on Oravida's website which stated that she had praised its products.
But today Key's office confirmed that the Cabinet office had only read the English language version on the website, which did not contain those references.
So, Key's a liar, and the cabinet office are muppets, all enabled by secrecy. And with secrecy, the incentives align for a continuation of this behaviour: the Minister has no reason not to lie, and the Cabinet Office (which has no incentive to rock the boat with its Minister) has no reason to improve the quality of its advice.
Transparency fixes this problem. It allows us to ensure that the Prime Minister is straight with us, and it allows us to check the quality of Cabinet Office's advice (something which has been hugely beneficial for every other public service department). As for the argument that this might cause Ministers to avoid seeking advice on their conflicts, I have a simple solution: sack the fuckers. Full disclosure and clean hands should not be too much to expect from those holding public office - and if they're not willing to accept that, there are plenty more ambitious junior MPs who will take their job.