Friday, July 27, 2012

Compare and contrast

On Wednesday, the Law Commission released its review of the Official Information Act [PDF], recommending a rollback of transparency and a greater expansion of secrecy over the heart of government.

Meanwhile, on Thursday the UK House of Commons Justice Committee released its Post-legislative scrutiny of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. In contrast to the NZ Law Commission, they upheld the core principles of their freedom of information law, recommending only minor, technical changes.

So why the difference? well, Tony Blair probably helped, with his utterly self-serving opposition to the freedom of information law he passed and his refusal to engage with the committee reminding everyone the benefits of open government (remember, without the FOIA, the UK would have taken much longer to learn what a lying sack of shit he was). But more importantly, the UK committee heard not just from the usual self-serving officials interested in protecting themselves and their masters from accountability, but from freedom of information campaigners who spoke up for transparency and gave concrete examples of the benefits it delivered. Those voices (including my own) were conspicuously silent here - possibly because we were all busy, or possibly because we foolishly thought the Law Commission could be trusted. Either way, we fucked up, and as a result the Law Commission accepted the views of those self-interested officials uncritically.

Its unclear how the government will respond to the report yet. Unfortunately, Judith Collins is in charge of that response, and given her contemptuous attitude to the OIA in the past it doesn't exactly fill me with confidence. There's a real prospect that National will use this to roll back transparency and reintroduce secrecy. And the only winners from that will be the politicians.