Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Odious secrecy

Something odious about the Zero Carbon Bill: it expands the Climate Change Response Act's existing secrecy clause to cover "the Climate Change Commission, in respect of the performance of its functions or exercise of its powers under Parts 1A to 1C".

The secrecy clause currently requires the EPA to keep confidential any information which comes into their possession in the performance of their climate change functions and not disclose it except under specified conditions (which basicly boil down to "with permission, if its already out there, or to another part of the government"). The Ombudsman has found that despite s99(2)(b)(iv), the clause trumps the OIA. The justification for this was that the EPA received business information from polluters about their emissions, which should be kept confidential. But the amendment would apply it to the Climate Change Commission in the performance of any of its functions, including target setting, providing advice to the Minister, setting and reporting on emissions budgets, and the preparation of risk assessments, and it would cover all communications, submissions, and advice received during those processes. In other words, they would be cloaked in a veil of secrecy - transparency would cease to exist. We would have no right to see e.g. who has been lobbying the Climate Change Commission, or whether the Minister has been leaning on them during the target-setting process. Which is perhaps the point.

There is no conceivable justification for this. Insofar as submissions or advice contain sensitive business information, they can be adequately protected by existing withholding clauses (e.g. s9(2)(b)(ii)). Insofar as they don't, then there is no justification for secrecy. Transparency may be inconvenient to politicians and officials, but it is fundamental to public trust and accountability. A Climate Change Commission which is not subject to it will lack any credibility.