Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Another secret OIA "consultation"

When the previous government decided in 2018 to review the OIA, the Ministry of Justice decided to do the entire thing in secret, planning a "targeted consultation" with a secret, hand-picked group of lawyers, bloggers and commentators. Because obviously, wider civil society has no interest in the operation of the quasi-constitutional legislation which underpins government transparency. That blew up in their faces, but they didn't learn a thing from the resulting mess. Because they're now reviewing secrecy clauses as part of their Open Government Partnership commitments. And once again, they've decided to do it in secret:

The New Zealand Council for Civil Liberties (NZCCL) is disturbed by the Ministry of Justice’s strange and secretive approach to open government and the Official Information Act, and is calling on it to consult the public on its proposals regarding the drafting of laws that oust the OIA, rather than five civil society organisations.

“This secretive consultation on secrecy clauses highlights the Ministry of Justice’s strange failure to understand that since the OIA is a law that provides rights to all of us, the public as a whole should be consulted whenever work is done that affects its operation and our rights. Consultation with only a few cherry-picked organisations is not only completely inappropriate for an Open Government Partnership commitment, but also likely to mean the Ministry doesn’t hear from individual experts and other organisations it didn’t favour,” says NZCCL Deputy chairperson Andrew Ecclestone.

“The Ministry’s bizarre thinking about who will be interested in laws that affect our right to information, and its conflict of interest regarding administration of the OIA, also demonstrate why it would be completely improper for the Ministry to conduct the review of the OIA that the National-led Government has committed itself to,” added Mr Ecclestone.

You'd almost get the impression that the Ministry of Justice believes that government is not the business of us dirty peasants, and that we should keep our dirty hands off it, except by voting once every three years. Which is a rather narrow view of "democracy", and calls into question their stewardship of this legislation.

The NZCCL has published the Ministry's consultation document, and I encourage everyone with an interest in freedom of information and the use of secrecy clauses to submit on it.