Tuesday, April 08, 2008


That's my immediate response to the news that the government is attempting to withhold the cabinet papers and official advice on its changing of foreign ownership regulations under s9 (2) (g) (ii) of the Official Information Act. For those who don't know, this section allows information to be withheld in order to "maintain the effective conduct of public affairs through the protection of... Ministers, members of organisations, officers, and employees from improper pressure or harassment".

The Ombudsmen's Guideline [PDF] on this section is clear:

“Improper pressure or harassment” is something more than ill considered or irritating criticism or unwanted publicity
so the government is carefuly avoiding making such a claim. Instead, they're claiming that the two Ministers who will ultimately be making the decision have been denied this information, and that the public discussion which would follow from releasing it would "contaminate" them. But what does this boil down to? Unwanted publicity and a claim that Ministers cannot possibly do their jobs while subjected to public scrutiny. The first is a reason explicitly ruled out by the Ombudsmen, while the second attacks the very foundations of our democracy.

Not that Cullen is refusing to release - he's simply delaying until after the decision is a fait accompli. No matter what you think of the issue, this sort of secretive and anti-democratic behaviour is unacceptable.