Friday, June 23, 2023

NZDF will not be happy with this

Back in October, the government introduced its new bill for an Inspector-General of Defence to the House. The bill was written by and for NZDF, and it showed - it was basicly designed to enable coverups, with secrecy clauses, OIA exemptions, a new withholding ground of "making NZDF feel bad", gag orders, NZDF control of investigations, and a limitation on scope which would have prevented the new Inspector-General from investigating practically any of the many, many, many awful things and failures NZDF has done over the years. As a result, it was roundly condemned by civil society groups, who made submissions demanding transparency, independence, and a body which could actually hold NZDF accountable.

...and for once, the select committee scrutinising the bill actually listened. They reported back on it today, and the report is a resounding defeat for NZDF. The most significant changes:

  • The entire idea of "scope" - designed by NZDF to keep the IGD from investigating anything - has been discarded. The Inspector-General will now be able to investigate anything NZDF does;
  • The requirement to avoid "duplication of scrutiny", intended to prevent investigations, has been replaced by a cooperation clause, letting the IGD work with other agencies and run parallel investigations;
  • Investigations must now be conducted in public unless there is good reason not to;
  • The IGD will be fully subject to the OIA, with no exemption for investigations. The select committee was quite explicit in finding that existing OIA withholding grounds were sufficient to protect the interests involved. The definition of "sensitive information" has also been aligned with the OIA, meaning that information can no longer be withheld simply because it makes NZDF feel bad.

This is basicly everything I asked for in my submission. The only thing I didn't get was a fix to the protected disclosures regime (though that is arguably handled by the removal of the concept of "scope" and enabling cooperation with other agencies - meaning that protected disclosures about NZDF will actually be able to be investigated).

Unfortunately the departmental advice and responses to queries are not yet online, so we can't see how NZDF responded to submissions. But I doubt they're happy. And the danger now is that the Minister will listen to them and abuse Labour's majority to undo the committee's recommendations and restore the coverup regime.