Monday, March 30, 2015

Reported Back

The Local Government and Environment Committee has reported back on National's Environmental Reporting Bill. There were two chief concerns around the bill. The first was secrecy, and the government's efforts to use the bill to hide environmental information from the public. Its largely good news here: the secrecy clause has been rewritten along lines suggested by the Ombudsman so that it only covers "untested information" pre-publication. The Ombudsman seems to think this is justified by statistical good practices, and that seems acceptable. But while the worst excesses have been removed, its telling that while the bill protects requests for information from the Ombudsman and Auditor-General, it does not protect requests from the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment. Which says a lot about the level of trust between the current government and the environment's statutory protector, who will be legally forbidden from accessing up-to-date information about the thing they're supposed to be protecting.

The other chief area of contention was the power of government Ministers to choose the topics for reporting. We've received a powerful reminder today about why that is a bad idea - Statistics New Zealand's proposed environmental reporting topics whitewash away major environmental problems. Sadly, the government has refused to budge here. Which means that this bill is simply not worth passing. I support robust, independent reporting on our environment. I do not support a government whitewash with legislated secrecy.