Thursday, May 25, 2017

Brownlee vs the Ombudsman

Back in April I highlighted a disturbing situation where former EQC Minister Gerry Brownlee had apparently sought to bully the Ombudsman over his department being forced to reveal information under the OIA. Now, the next stage of it has made the Herald:

Tension over the rules governing the release of government-held information to the public have led to questions over a senior Cabinet minister's knowledge of the Official Information Act.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Gerry Brownlee told the Herald he had experienced "frustration" over uncertainty about when information could be released to the public and when it could be properly withheld.

In an effort to get more details, he sent the Office of the Ombudsman an Official Information Act request.

The problem? A basic principle of the OIA is that offices of Parliament - including the Office of the Ombudsman - are not covered by the legislation.

Brownlee has told the Herald that he was "trying to make [a] point". Which just seems like bullying under another name. In this particular case, the agency for which Brownlee was responsible at the time - EQC - had an appalling record on OIA issues, caused in part by an outright adversarial attitude towards the people it was supposed to be helping. And despite an Ombudsman's investigation in 2013, it is still failing to obey the law on basic issues of timeliness. Which makes Brownlee's "concerns" about "free and frank advice" so much hot air: his department was sucking at the basics; not the judgement calls. Which seems to be a problem they share with Brownlee himself (he was the worst Minister for OIA timeliness in 2010).

Brownlee's bullying is outrageous and inappropriate. It is like trying to bully a judge who ruled against you in court. And when looked at like that, Brownlee's actions look like attempting to pervert the course of justice. The good news is that the Ombudsman is resisting his bullying - for now.