Tuesday, March 14, 2017

No sunlight, no disinfectant

Newstalk ZB's Felix Marwick writes about the failure of his efforts to uncover the details of John Key's "briefings to bloggers" using the Official Information Act:

The Office of the Prime Minister has consistently refused to release any of the details I have sought. Its position, via Chief of Staff Wayne Eagleson, has been the information sought fell under the Prime Minister’s position as Leader of the National Party so the information was not subject to the Official Information Act. Mr Eagleson’s position has also been that to provide the information, in the case of interactions with blogger and party pollster David Farrar, it would require the searching of a large volume of correspondence. In a nutshell, any information the Prime Minister’s office held, it was not willing to disclose.

On this point the Ombudsmen have accepted the view of the Prime Minister’s Office with Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier’s view that the threshold for him to check the communications in question has not been met.

Matters have also been further complicated by John Key’s departure from the office of Prime Minister. The Chief Ombudsman did approach Mr English’s office last December to see if he adopted the position of his predecessor. Mr English, via his chief of staff Wayne Eagleson, backed the position of his predecessor and also made the point that given Mr Key’s departure, and that of many of his staff, he couldn’t be certain in what capacity Mr Key made the communications and whether they were official information or not.

Add to this the fact that when a Minister or official ceases office, information that they alone hold stops being official information at that point, and it becomes immediately apparent any formal attempt to use the OIA to elicit details is a lost cause.

I'd made the same request, with the same results. If you're curious about the details, the Ombudsman's most recent letter is here. The core problem with the process though is simply how long it took: the requests were filed in July 2014, and yet the Ombudsman's Office didn't bother to act on them until 1 September 2016, two years after the complaints were received. If they'd acted sooner, then it would have happened before Key resigned, he would not have been able to play the hat game (because information is official by default), and there likely would have been some form of answer. Instead, the slow action on the complain has let him get away with it.

Marwick's conclusions are clear: firstly, that the OIA is fundamentally useless for getting information which politicians don't want to give you, and that real stories are going to come from leaks. And secondly: "the most senior politician in the land probably had something to hide".