Friday, December 05, 2014

No consideration of corporate manslaughter

In the aftermath of the Pike River disaster there were calls for New Zealand to introduce a corporate manslaughter offence to allow grossly negligent corporations (and their directors and managers) to be held liable when they killed. The government's response to these calls was to say "we'll consider it". And when John Key announced that he was abandoning the bodies in the mine, he again hid behind that, saying that more advice had been sought.

So how seriously did National consider corporate manslaughter? A recent request on FYI, the public OIA requests website, gives us the answer: not seriously at all. In three years, they produced just eight documents: seven file notes and a short briefing. The actual advice in all those documents has been censored as "confidential" under s9(2)(f)(iv), but this is not the paper trail of a government considering policy change (that would involve more briefings, draft Cabinet papers, escalating to a Cabinet decision). Most tellingly, there's nothing since September 2013. The upshot: officials took a brief look at it, considered some international examples, and the government decided not to do anything. And why would they? After all, negligent corporations are their donors and cronies - hardly people they want to throw in jail.

Incidentally, those redactions of "confidential" advice? They're unlawful. As the Ombudsman's guidelines make clear, the clause protects the ability of the government to "consider" (undisturbed by the noisy peasantry, who will be presented with a fait accompli) advice. Once advice is no longer being considered, once a decision has been made, it no longer applies. In this case a decision has clearly been made not to proceed. And that means there is no longer a case for the government to hide it from us.