Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The PCE on the Environmental Reporting Bill

Submissions on the Environmental Reporting Bill are due on Thursday, but the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment has released theirs, calling for major changes to the bill. The full submission is here, and the key areas of concern are the purpose, the criteria for selecting indicators, and the process for selecting topics (which opens the report to Ministerial manipulation). But they also raise serious concerns about section 16, the secrecy clause, highlighting the fact that it goes far beyond its stated purpose of preventing Ministerial interference and provides for perpetual secrecy of a wide range of information. One aspect they highlight is that this restricts the information-gathering powers of Officers of Parliament, and that this raises constitutional questions. And its worth noting that this isn't just the PCE, but also the Auditor-General, or the Ombudsman. These are not bodies which should be statutorily blinded in this fashion.

There's also an interesting footnote (11) about the process of "consultation" on this section:

During the drafting of the Bill, I was consulted on only one clause, namely the description of the role of the Parliamentary Commissioner’s role in Clause 17. In a meeting with the Minister for the Environment on 30 September, she asked if I wished to see drafts of environmental reports. I replied that I would not, (before publication) because any commentary I would make would be on the final publicly released reports. Unfortunately, this seems to have been misinterpreted as my agreement to the disclosure clause which I did not see until shortly before the Bill was introduced. Letter from James Palmer, Deputy Secretary – Sector Strategy, Ministry for the Environment, dated 4 February 2014
[Emphasis added]

That's a pretty shocking indictment on the way this clause was formulated. What are the odds that they didn't consult the Ombudsman about it either?

[Meanwhile, I should really write my submission...]

Update: The Ombudsman doesn't like the secrecy clause either...