Friday, January 26, 2018

The cost of democracy

An article in The Spinoff yesterday accused the New Zealand Taxpayer's Union - a National Party front group featured in Dirty Politics - of wasting public money by using the OIA and LGOIMA. According to the article, the NZTU was responsible for 5% of all LGOIMA requests to the Auckland Council, at an estimated cost (repeated uncritically by The Spinoff) of $39,100. Which is apparently a Bad Thing. Why, the Auckland Council could buy a whole centimetre of road for the cost of the time wasted by this organisation!

Sure. And how much could they buy if they stopped answering OIA requests from Greater Auckland? Or The Spinoff. More generally, what could the government afford if it refused to answer OIA requests from Greenpeace, the media, or the opposition?

Because that's what The Spinoff is inviting them to do. And by doing so, they buy fully into the bureaucratic narrative that transparency and the ability of citizens to hold government to account is "waste", rather than a core function.

I reject that narrative. Transparency is a right. Public servants work for us, are accountable to us, and must be transparent to us. And that applies regardless of who is asking the questions - whether its the good guys at Generation Zero, or the hacks at the Taxpayer's Onion. Trying to cost-shame your political opponents over transparency falls into the same category as trying to cost-shame people over the cost of elections and referenda: its anti-democratic idiocy. And as a media organisation, The Spinoff should be ashamed they published it.