Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The OIA and the Statutes Amendment Bill

Back in February the government introduced a Statutes Amendment Bill to make numerous "technical, short, and non-controversial" amendments to legislation. The bill included several amendments to the OIA and LGOIMA which I thought fell into that category. The bill was reported back today, and those amendments have been tweaked. But it turns out there was controversy there: in the Ombudsman's submission, they note that Judith Collins hadn't bothered to consult them about any of it:

We note with concern that we were not consulted on the proposed amendments to the Official Information Act in this Bill.
Because why would you bother to consult the agency primarily responsible for interpreting and enforcing the OIA about changes to that legislation?

The Ombudsman highlighted several problems with the amendments around legal professional privilege (which, while I don't like the strength of the existing withholding ground, I have to agree with; legal privilege is about advice as well as actual court proceedings). They've also suggested tweaks to the clauses about replacement requests. And the committee, being smarter than Judith Collins, has adopted all of those changes.

Meanwhile, while finding that submission, I also came across one from Science New Zealand, who attempted to abuse the Statutes Amendment Bill process to make major and highly controversial changes to limit access to the OIA. Fortunately the committee were having none of it. So who is Science New Zealand? They're a lobby group for CRIs, structured as an incorporated society. Which conveniently means I can't OIA them to monitor their anti-OIA agenda, because such bodies are not covered (if they were a company, they'd be a multi-parent subsidiary Crown Entity; if the owners were local bodies of CCOs they'd be a CCO. Their structure is highly convenient to say the least). We've had such unaccountable pseudo-government lobby groups before, and they were brought under the Act by the threat of a member's bill; clearly the same needs to be done here.