Friday, August 21, 2015

Exposing dirty politics

Back in April it was revealed that Prime Minister John Key had systematically and repeatedly assaulted and sexually harassed a cafe waitress (while his police bodyguards stood around and did nothing). Shortly afterwards, dirty politics operative and sewer-columnist Rachel Glucina ran a smear-job on the victim. When he was asked under the OIA whether he had had any communications with her about it, Key refused to respond. That refusal was one of the worst I've ever seen, and so naturally enough the requester took it to the Ombudsman. On Wednesday we learned that the Ombudsman was investigating the refusal. Key response to this has been to stand by his stonewalling [audio], citing a "long-standing view" and a "convention" that his interactions with the media shouldn't be released. The problem? None of that is in the law. The OIA specifies a number of conclusive and non-conclusive reasons for withholding official information - and the Prime Minister having a "long-standing view" that he should be above the law isn't one of them. And the grounds he does cite - "privacy" (his own) and "confidentiality" (offered for his own convenience) - are simply not applicable. If the system works as it should, Key should be forced to reveal whatever information he holds (subject to legitimate redactions for privacy - things like names and phone numbers, not whether he or his minions talked to a journalist).

As for the supposed consequences, I'm perfectly comfortable with them. As I noted earlier, if Key is so ashamed of his contact with Rachel Glucina that he is blatantly ignoring the law to avoid admitting it, maybe he shouldn't have contacted her in the first place. And if the threat of exposure deters him from making such contacts in future, then that would a victory for the OIA.

[Disclosure: I'm a party to this complaint, having complained about the refusal of my request for information regarding the existence of information]