Tuesday, November 23, 2021

The "most open and transparent government ever" again

The government is about to pass new vaccination mandate legislation under urgency. So obviously, they'd want to ensure it gets the best possible scrutiny in the limited time available by releasing the supporting policy documents, right? Of course not:

On the eve of legislation to enable vaccination passes being rushed through Parliament under urgency, the Minister has said it will not publish the relevant policy papers until ‘late January 2022.’

The New Zealand Council for Civil Liberties had today finally received a response (PDF) from the Government to its 9 October request for information about the introduction of vaccination certificates. The Minister for Covid-19 Response – also the Minister for Open Government – Chris Hipkins has refused to provide the information requested.


“I have made the decision to proactively release all decision making documents relating to COVID-19 vaccination certificates, including the above, on the Unite against COVID-19 website (see: covid19.govt.nz). I intend to publish this information by late January 2022.”

The Council’s chairman, Thomas Beagle, described the Minister’s response as “a disgraceful affront to open government and Aotearoa New Zealand’s democracy. It is unacceptable that MPs and the public won’t be able to read these crucial policy documents before considering the legislation to impose the vaccination certificate system.”

This certainly shows the lie behind the government's claims to be "the most open and transparent government ever". Its also an example of how the government is increasingly abusing the proactive publication clause of the OIA to keep information secret and undermine the entire OIA regime. The purpose of the OIA is to promote accountability and participation, and this requires people getting information when they want it, not when it suits the government to release it. But increasingly, the government is using the existence of proactive publication policies to refuse requests and dole out information when it is too late to inform participation, while redacting it to suit themselves, or refusing to release it entirely (as there is no legislation covering withholding information from proactive release). And this basicly subverts the Act, undermines its purposes, and takes us back to the bad old days of the 1970's.

An obvious solution to this is to repeal s18(d) of the OIA. While this would be administratively inconvenient, it is clear that Ministers and officials cannot be trusted to behave reasonably or apply the law in good faith, so we need to remove the slightest excuse they have for secrecy. And if they whinge about it, they have no-one to blame but themselves.