Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Espiner on Bennett

Colin Espiner weighs in on Paula Bennett's information thuggery:

Ministers have to be extremely careful about using the power of their office to come down on pesky complainants like a tonne of bricks. Bennett has extraordinary access to beneficiaries' private lives through the Ministry of Social Development.

The concern with something like this is that it sends the message that if you criticise the Government, it will hit you back 10 times as hard. And while I think actually that this information WAS relevant in this case, I'm not sure it was up to the minister's office to release it.

The other question is where the matter stops. What say a minister decided to release the tax return details of a complainant? Or their shonky work history? Or some criminal conviction that had been long buried? Let's face it, it's not a fair fight.

And that's the real problem here. The government collects all sorts of information about us as part of its ordinary business - information on tax, crimes or criminal complaints, health, travel, education - and we expect that the relevant departments will generally keep that information private. We do not expect it to end up in the Minister's hands to be used as political ammunition if we dare to raise our voice.

Bennett has committed an extraordinary abuse of power here, which reminds us of the bad old days under Muldoon or Shipley. It is authoritarian, it is totalitarian, and it shows no respect for individual's rights or privacy. But apparently, these things now come second to government spin.