Monday, August 10, 2020

Supplementary Question on the OIA

NewsHub Nation has launched a new podcast, "Supplementary Question". Their inaugural episode is about the OIA, and asks "is our most important transparency law fit for purpose?" While they interviewed Justice Minister Andrew Little and Ombudsman Peter Boshier for this, there's not actually a lot of them in there, and most of the space is given to open government advocate Andrew Ecclestone talking about the need for reform. An important point he makes is that control over the flow of information is inherently about political power, and that overseas experiences shows newly-elected governments tend to be better at opening it up than second-term ones, because they still have strong memories of using freedom of information legislation to extract information rather than trying to block it. Which is something to remember when Andrew Little is promising to "rewrite" the Act (but being entirely non-specific about how).

In terms of clues about what Little is planning, he highlights a greater emphasis on proactive release. Which is good, but at the same time if done badly leaves the government holding all the cards, deciding what is released and when (and at the moment, appeal rights over proactively-released material are non-existent). We need to make sure that it is done well, with limited ability for the government to control timing or redactions for its own advantage. But again, we can only do that if we get a full public consultation process; Little's previously hinted-at plan of just writing the bill themselves in secret and letting us plebs comment on it at select committee isn't enough, as (as Ecclestone points out) the major policy decisions have been made and the government will not want the embarrassment of being seen to change its mind (that apparently being a Bad Thing in politics).