Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Corrected: Another attack on transparency

Correction: This post is entirely incorrect. Yes, the Statutes Amendment Bill removes the Māori Trustee from part 1 of schedule 1 of the Ombudsmen Act 1975. What I hadn't noticed is that it is also listed in part 2 (Organisations other than local organisations). Which means the Ombudsman will still retain jurisdiction and the trustee will still be subject to the OIA. The Māori Trustee appears to have been double-listed because they were originally managed by a government department, the Maori Trust Office. This was abolished in 2009, but while the name in part 1 was changed (and both spellings updated), the double-listing itself wasn't corrected. So, this really is a "technical, short and non-controversial" amendment.

Something I hadn't noticed: there is a Statutes Amendment Bill currently awaiting its second reading in the House. Among its many changes is an amendment to the Ombudsmen Act 1975 which would remove the Māori Trustee from the jurisdiction of the Ombudsman, and thus from the Official Information Act.

What's the reason for this change? Unfortunately, the Bill doesn't say. The explanatory note simply says that the amendment is to "remove redundant references, insert an updated reference to the State Services Commission, and update spelling in 5 items." But the Māori Trustee hasn't been disestablished, and it does not appear to have changed into another form of entity already covered by another part of the Act, so it doesn't seem to be redundant. Perhaps the government feels it is inappropriate for the Trustee to remain subject to the Act. But if so, firstly, they need to make the case, and secondly, that doesn't seem to meet the "technical, short and non-controversial" requirement for inclusion in a Statutes Amendment Bill.

I've sent in an OIA request to Andrew Little, who (under the usual approval process had to sign off on this amendment). Hopefully that will provide a justification for this change. If none is forthcoming, or it is simply a desire on the part of the Trustee for more secrecy, then I will be seeking an MP to object to the clause at the Committee Stage, which would see it removed from the bill.