Thursday, January 31, 2019

The government's secret OIA plans II

You may recall that back in September we learned that the government was secretly planning to review the OIA, planning to consult a hand-picked, secret group of lawyers, bloggers and commentators in a "targeted consultation" on quasi-constitutional legislation. The details of who they plan to consult and when are of course secret (whether they should be released or not is currently before the Ombudsman). But thanks to Justice Minister Andrew Little being forced to reconsider his OIA decisions, now at least we know what the options are.

The details are in this table, which was redacted (along with various mentions of the number of options under consideration) from Little's previous release. It shows us that Little was advised both of the public feedback on the 2016-2018 Open Government Partnership National Action Plan, and on the views of academics, commentators and OIA experts, both of which supported extension of the OIA to Parliament, the establishment of a specialist Information Authority, and legislative support for proactive release. As for the options under consideration, they are:

  • A full public review of official information legislation (which could target areas that would benefit from further public engagement, such as the establishment of an Information Commissioner);
  • Reconsidering the Law Commission's 2012 recommendations;
  • "targeted reforms" to address specific Law Commission recommendations (AKA cherry-picking the ones the government likes, while ignoring the rest); and
  • Legislative amendments to support proactive release (which assumedly includes the push to extend s48 to grant immunity to Ministers and officials who abuse their control of official information to dox their political enemies).
what the officials actually think of these options is withheld as "confidential", but based on the focus on targeted engagement, it seems they are pursuing one of the middle two. And again, this is all being done in secret. Which, when you consider that this is our primary transparency legislation, is simply obscene. If the government doesn't want to talk about major reforms, it can simply say so. But if it is going to make changes to quasi-constitutional legislation which affects our ability to participate in government and hold them to account, it must do so openly and in public, rather than using stovepiped insiders to present us with a fait accompli.