Wednesday, May 08, 2019

"The most transparent government ever" - still bullshit

Shortly after being elected, Labour promised to be "the most open, most transparent Government that New Zealand has ever had". I've commented repeatedly on how Labour is failing to meet that promise in its behaviour over parliamentary written questions. And sadly, despite the Speaker repeatedly calling them out on it, their bullshit continues:

I have received a letter from the Hon Michael Woodhouse raising with me the responses to written questions he has received from the Minister of Health. I note the Minister and his office have been under considerable pressure as a result of having up to 1,500 questions lodged on a single day... However, Dr Clark's response to some of the questions is not acceptable.

The replies refer the member to another reply, and that reply refers him on to another reply. In one instance, the member would have had to make his way through 22 separate replies which do not answer the question before finally reaching the answer. That approach falls far short of the standard of accountability required to the House of Ministers.

The matter was compounded by the answer that was ultimately provided, which stated that the matter was an operational one and that the member could use the Official Information Act 1982 to request the information sought. There is no convention that Ministers are not answerable for operational matters in the agencies falling within their portfolio areas...

So why did the Minister get 1,500 questions in a single day? From the look of it, because he made work for himself. Ministers have sought to avoid accountability by demanding increasing specificity in questions, meaning that a request for operation numbers over a specific period by type and DHB - basic accountability information - had to be chopped up by each of those categories. Meaning dozens of questions per DHB, for each of the 20 DHBs (I haven't dug further to see if it had to be chopped up by time as well). And from the Speaker's ruling, in the end the Minister provided bulk information anyway. Which invites the question of why they didn't do it in the first place, and the conclusion that he has no-one to blame but himself.

The Speaker has been good about calling Ministers out over their bullshit games, but it clearly isn't working. Its time that Ministers who undermine our democracy by refusing accountability to parliament are dragged before the Privileges Committee and punished for their contempt. The Committee can impose fines of up to $1,000. Applying that per question they fail to answer properly ought to provide an incentive for better Ministerial behaviour.