Monday, March 07, 2011

Confirmed: Brownlee made it up

Last year, when the government was making a lot of noise about its goal of "closing the gap" with Australia, we were confronted with the odd sight of Economic Development Minister Gerry Brownlee claiming in the House to have targets and milestones for this goal, but refusing to say what they were. When later pressed on this, he claimed that his targets and milestones were

to remove the millstones from around the neck of the New Zealand economy placed on it by the previous Labour Government [...] to assist the Government’s programme to undertake comprehensive economic reform of the New Zealand economy [and] to rebalance the economy towards export-led growth.
Since then I've been engaged in a prolonged OIA battle with the Minister to force him to produce the advice on which these "milestones" were based. Despite being given numerous interesting but irrelevant documents, its been clear from the beginning that there was no such advice - that Brownlee made up his "milestones", and in the process lied to Parliament. And today, I received confirmation of this, in the form of the Ombudsman's preliminary views on a complaint I lodged about Brownlee's answers. The Ombudsman has formed the view that Brownlee should have refused my request, on the grounds of section 18(g) of the Act - basically, that it does not exist. Why? Because the Minister had admitted it:
My investigator met with the relevant officials from the Ministers office. She was advised that the answer given in the House was not based on specific advice received by Mr Brownlee either from the Ministry of Economic Development, or from the advisors in his office. It was developed by Mr Brownlee and the relevant advisor. The answer in the House was drawn from the Minister's political career and his understanding of National Party policy. While documents were provided to the Minister to assist him with the line of questioning in the House, those documents are not relevant to the targets provided in his answers of 27 July and 5 August 2010.


It has become apparent during my investigation that there are no source documents for the answers given in the House on 27 July and 5 August 2010.

(Emphasis added)

So there you have it. Confronted with a tricky line of questioning in the House, Brownlee sat down with his political hacks and made up policy out of whole cloth without advice or Cabinet authority. But its not just mildly embarrassing - this is supposed to be a core government policy, the heart of their economic programme. And yet they have no targets, no milestones, and when you get down to it, no plan except to keep doing what we've always done (which hasn't closed the gap in the past, so why will it in the future?). Its a perfect example of the yawning void at the heart of this government, the way they focus on spin and ignore policy. And its a perfect example of the contempt they have for us - they think we won't notice.