Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Where do the parties stand on open government?

The election is in less than a week, so I thought I'd take a quick look at where the parties stand on open government, freedom of information, and the OIA. The short answer is that most of them don't. While Andrew Little has "promised" to rewrite the OIA, there's no mention of it (or of open government) in their manifesto. Its a similar story with National, though Justice Spokesperson Simon Bridges has said by email that "personally I am open to OIA reform to modernise and improve this important law. Of course the devil is in the detail". Neither ACT or NZ First mention the issue in their election policy documents. The exception to this dismal trend is the Greens, who devote a full page in their democracy policy to freedom of information, in which they promise:

  • Proactive publication of Cabinet decisions
  • Criminal offences for obstructing or delaying OIA requests
  • narrower withholding grounds, including Ministerial approval for hiding behind "national security"
  • publication of all responses on a centralised website
  • expanding the OIA's coverage to include Parliament and other currently excluded agencies

There's nothing novel or groundbreaking here, but its clear they have at least been paying attention to the issue, and think it is important enough to mention. Which puts them well ahead of the other parties.

I don't expect open government to be anyone's killer issue in this election - its not like its climate change. At the same time, I would expect parties to say at least something about it, even if its just "yay, transparency good". The fact that so many of them can't even be bothered doing that is disappointing, but its also hugely short-sighted. To point out the obvious, political parties are some of the major beneficiaries of open government, and it is essential for oppositions to be able to do their job of holding governments to account. The fact that they don't have policy on it suggests that they're not really thinking about their jobs at all.