Thursday, May 21, 2009

Draconian but not secret

In the Herald this morning, Green MP Sue Kedgley criticises the new Auckland Transitional Authority's draconian powers:

"The transition agency has extraordinary powers that I have never seen in legislation before," said the Greens' local government spokeswoman.

She was particularly concerned about a clause stating the agency had to provide information to the public only "as it sees fit".

She's right that those powers - for example to over-rule decisions made by elected local governments - are extraordinary and draconian. But she's absolutely wrong about the secrecy. Section 24 of the Local Government (Auckland Reorganisation) Act 2009 is quite clear:
The Ombudsmen Act 1975 and the Official Information Act 1982 apply to the Transition Agency as if the Transition Agency were an organisation named in Part 2 of Schedule 1 of the Ombudsmen Act 1975.
Which in English, means the ATA is subject to the OIA, and obliged to provide information unless there is good reason to withhold it. Now, I think there will be implementation problems with this - the business executives Rodney Hide wants to appoint will have little experience with the Act and will come from a culture of secrecy rather than openness, and are thus unlikely to take their OIA obligations seriously or interpret its provisions correctly and in accordance with the Ombudsman's practice guidelines (a criticism which BTW can also be levelled at several new government Ministers). But it is simply false to claim that the ATA will be able to release information only "as it sees fit". They will not, and if they try, the Ombudsmen will correct their erroneous views.