Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Bullying the Ombudsman

In December last year the Ombudsman's Quarterly Review mentioned that DPMC was planning a discussion on revising the rules around withholding "free and frank" advice. Naturally, I fired off an OIA, and learned that the discussion was confined to the government - they were talking to themselves about secrecy and how much we should be allowed to know, with no input for the OIA's users. I received the followup to that request yesterday, with more information. Naturally, DPMC has withheld their actual views as "free and frank" - apparently, they can only talk about secrecy in secret, presumably for fear of public outrage. But what they have released is bad enough.

It turns out that in September last year, Gerry Brownlee called the Ombudsman into his office to "better explain this Office's project on proper compliance with the [OIA]". From the Ombudsman's email summarising the meeting, Brownlee was concerned about the Ombudsman's defence of transparency and had

a genuine perception that the rules have changed and that we are pushing for a wider range of Ministerial advice and briefings to be released.

Or, to put it another way: Gerry Brownlee tried to bully the Ombudsman about transparency. Which is absolutely outrageous.

It gets worse. Because in response to this bullying and as part of these secret discussions about secrecy, the Office of the Ombudsman is "revising" its guidance on sections 9(2)(f)(iv) and 9(2)(g)(i) covering confidential and "free and frank" advice to Ministers. So, Brownlee may get what he wants. And if he does, we all lose.