Friday, October 09, 2009

Nick Smith vs the OIA

Carbon News this morning thinks it has a scoop: that the government's ETS deal with the Maori Party was made without reference to officials. But reading their story shows that this is more of a problem of asking the wrong question combined with obstinacy on the part of Climate Change Minister Nick Smith than a lack of official advice.

Carbon News asked for Cabinet papers on the agreement. They were told that they did not exist. This seems proper - the agreement is an arrangement between political parties, and so would not have been explicitly discussed by Cabinet (it would also fall outside the definition of "official information" as any information relating to it would not be held by Smith in his role as a Minister). Carbon News sought clarification, and were met with stonewalling by Smith, who in his desire to not give out any information whatsoever went so far as to deny that Cabinet had discussed the changes at all and that there were no Cabinet papers or minutes relevant to the issue. He seems to have eventually calmed down though, because

“Just before Carbon News went to press this morning we were told that there are papers relating to the moderation of the emissions trading scheme which are being considered for release in relation to Carbon News’ request. “
There are two lessons in this. The first, for requestors: be clear about what you are asking for, and be aware of the definition of "official information". The second, for Ministers: if you stonewall and deny, people may just take you at your word, and you will have no-one but yourself to blame for the resulting bad headline.

Meanwhile, I'm hoping for a public release of papers on this issue. They will make fascinating reading to find out what Treasury and Ministry for the Environment thought of this compromised scheme.