Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Not very proactive

A couple of weeks ago, Stuff broke the news that the government was planning a significant boost to proactive release of official information, with almost all advice to Ministers expected to be proactively released. Which sounds great, but as I pointed out, there's real reason for concern in the way that this would interact with the OIA, and it could effectively gut the act and return us to the days of information only being given out by the government when it decides to. But there's another reason for concern as well, and that is that the government is failing to meet its existing proactive release obligations:

Less than a quarter of all Cabinet papers are being proactively released within the Government’s own timeframes, with additional concerns about a lack of record-keeping within ministers’ offices.


[I]nformation provided to the National Party through written parliamentary questions, and assessed by Newsroom, shows both low rates of compliance and poor record-keeping on whether ministers’ offices are adhering to the rules.

Of 1240 papers taken to Cabinet between November 2020 and March 2022, just 538 (or 43 percent) had been recorded as having been proactively released.

Of the papers that had been released, just 247 were reported as being made public within the 30-day timeframe set by the Government (46 percent of those papers which were released, and 20 percent of the overall tally).

Which naturally invites the question: if the government is already failing to do what it said, why should we trust them to do more, or view the "expansion" as anything other than a scam to undermine the OIA and frustrate requests?

The core problem here is that implementation is left in the hands of individual Ministers, who have varying levels of interest and commitment. The obvious solution is to take it off them, and replace individual ministerial releases with a central repository run by DPMC or DIA. This would ensure accountability, as well as allow statistics to be collected so it could be properly managed. There also needs to be a way of learning what we're not seeing, and the obvious solution here is publication of Cabinet and cabinet committee agendas. DPMC has reacted to this idea with utter horror when they have been requested in the past, but there seems to be no good reason to keep them secret, other than undemocratic traditions of secrecy - and every reason to disclose them (with redactions if required) if we want to have a transparent, democratic government.