Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Labour attacks LGOIMA - in secret

Today the government used urgency to introduce a new Local Government Official Information and Meetings Amendment Bill. The bulk of the bill deals with land information memorandums (LIMs), requiring local authorities to notify of natural hazards and granting them immunity for doing so in good faith (hopefully forestalling lawsuits by coastal property owners worried about the effect of such notification on their property values). That bit's fine. But part 2 of the bill amends the disclosure regime, adding national security to the withholding grounds, and introducing a Prime Ministerial veto on release. This aligns LGOIMA withholding grounds with those in the OIA,and according to the explanatory note is being done as

The lack of these conclusive grounds for withholding information may inhibit the ability of local authorities to seek or receive advice on security risks and increase the risk of disclosure of information that could prejudice New Zealand’s security or defence or the international relations of the Government of New Zealand.
Of course, the reason they aren't in the LGOIMA at present is because councils don't do that shit, and nor should they. The Ministers promoting the bill need to be asked for specific examples of such inhibition, or what foreign governments or intelligence agencies our councils are cooperating with, whether information has been released, and what harm it has actually caused. And if they have no such examples, if this is just an arse-covering exercise "just in case" or to enable such cooperation, this part of the bill should be rejected.

According to the bill's departmental disclosure statement DIA "did not engage with local authorities or speak to local government sector organisations about the withholding grounds due to time constraints" (the thought of consulting the real stakeholders - the public - seems not to have occured to them). And yet, they supposedly produced a regulatory impact statement on it in June, which still isn't online and has been kept secret for the last five months. There is also apparently a BORA vet, but its also secret, and likely won't be released until after the bill's first reading. Sadly, given Ministry of Justice's track record, I doubt they'll engage with the freedom of expression issues raised by expanding withholding grounds, let alone the rule-of-law problems of allowing the Prime Minister to over-rule the Ombudsman. But it is highly disturbing that a bill restricting freedom of information rights and expanding secrecy was developed in total secrecy, without consulting those primarily affected: the public.

OTOH, it is a pattern sadly typical for Labour. And when they're currently wanking internationally about their participation in the Open Government partnership, while expanding secrecy at home, it just looks two-faced.