Thursday, October 15, 2015

Plugging a hole in the OIA

Last night Parliament debated Adrian Rurawhe's Official Information (Parliamentary Under-Secretaries) Amendment Bill. The bill is a no-brainer which extends the OIA to cover Parliamentary Under-Secretaries, who are members of the executive with delegated responsibilities for decision-making and policy development. Their exclusion from the Act wasn't based on any matter of principle as far as I could tell, but an oversight - back in 1982, there simply weren't any. But as MMP has forced new coalition arrangements, governments have increasingly looked for ways of paying off minor party coalition partners (or their own MPs who think they deserve a Ministerial position and salary), and so this British legacy sinecure position has been resurrected - and in David Seymour's case, given power over a major and controversial area of policy.

In New Zealand, power is supposed to come with transparency and accountability. So I was pleased to see Ruwhare's bill drawn from the ballot, and even more pleased last night to see it pass its first reading. What I wasn't pleased to see was National and ACT voting against it - do these parties not understand the basics of our constitution? Have they no shame? Fortunately, they were outvoted by their own coalition partners, Peter Dunne and the Maori Party. The bill is now off to the Government Administration Committee, which will no doubt be calling for submissions soon. I urge people to submit in support of it.

Meanwhile, this also demonstrates that there is currently a Parliamentary majority for incremental reform of the OIA to increase transparency. I wonder if any party will seize that opportunity?