Wednesday, October 30, 2019

A partial release

The Ombudsman has ruled on the issue of Julie-Anne Genter's letter to Phil Twyford on the "Let's Get Wellington Moving" policy, and forced the release of some information. The Ombudsman's statement is here. The key point: the letter was written in part in a Ministerial capacity, and was official information (so no hat-game). But:

“I found that withholding the full letter is necessary to maintain the effective conduct of public affairs through the free and frank expression of opinions during the policy process,” Mr Boshier says.

“However, the Associate Minister’s statements in the House on the matter waived the confidentiality of this exchange to some extent. This resulted in some speculation and confusion about the capacity in which the document was held, and what it said.”

“Therefore, I considered there to be an overriding public interest in the release of some information about the letter and its context, to inform public understanding and promote public trust and confidence.”

Genter and Twyford's summary of the letter - agreed with the Ombudsman - is here.

The decision that it is "free and frank" is unusual - normally internal coalition discussions are protected under the "confidential advice" clause rather than "free and frank". But the real shift is that answering questions in the House at least partly waives the protection of this clause. Which sets a clear incentive for the Opposition to question Ministers closely so they can one way or another get answers. And that can only be a Good Thing.