Friday, June 29, 2018

The Minister for Open Government strikes again!

How committed to transparency is Clare Curran, our "Minister for Open Government"? The Public Media Advisory Group, which she appointed under her other hat as Broadcasting Minister, decided that it would not keep minutes of its meetings after hearing that it would be subject to the OIA:

A Ministerial Advisory group met once, noted its meeting minutes were subject to the Official Information Act (OIA), then stopped taking minutes in further meetings.

Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media Minister Clare Curran set up the Ministerial Advisory Group in February to investigate establishing a Public Media Funding Commission.

Documents released to Opposition MP Melissa Lee under the OIA show the group decided to "not keep minutes for its further meetings" after meeting for the first time on 27 February.

The minutes for that February meeting show early on in the meeting, "The MAG (Ministerial Advisory Group) noted it is subject to the Official Information Act."

After that meeting, there are no more minutes recorded.

MAG members also signed a "confidentiality deed", presumably in an attempt to contract themselves out of the OIA.

Of course, this is illegal. The MAG is a public agency, and as such is required to create and maintain full and accurate records of its affairs, in accordance with normal, prudent business practice. Failing to do this is a crime, though the penalty is a paltry $5,000 fine. But is also tremendously stupid, in that if the meeting doesn't keep minutes, it won't know what it has done in the past. Finally, its legally ineffective: the OIA applies to information, not just documents. If the information exists only in people's heads, then they are required to write it down for requesters. As for what to do about it, the answer is simple: the law should be enforced, and the group should be sacked and prosecuted for violating it. It is not acceptable for a government agency to deliberately refuse to create records in an effort to thwart the OIA regime, and they need to be held to account.