Wednesday, November 09, 2022

Addicted to secrecy

Back in July, Public Service Minister Chris Hipkins said he was concerned about the growing number of secrecy clauses excluding information from the coverage of the Official Information Act, and promised "safeguards" to limit their use in future. meanwhile, the government he is part of has just introduced another one, in its Sustainable Biofuel Obligation Bill.

Like many such clauses, the underlying justification is commercial sensitivity - fuel importers would be required to provide information on their activities to the EPA, and that information is obviously commercially sensitive. And like those other clauses, it is also completely unnecessary, as those interests are already protected by the OIA. That information is not absolute, and is subject to the public interest override. But that's appropriate - there are cases when accountability and transparency are more important than the commercial sensitivity of private companies (when they lie, for example. Or when the EPA doesn't do its job in prosecuting those lies). By proposing this clause, Labour - and by extension, Hipkins, who will have approved it at Cabinet - are saying that they do not trust the Ombudsman or the courts to interpret and apply the law correctly. And they're saying they'd rather have wrongdoing kept secret, rather than exposed and policed. You can see why a government of paranoid control-freaks and political arse-coverers would want that. But its absolutely not in the public interest. Hipkins needs to keep his promise, and ditch this clause.