Every time there’s a new government elected, each of the Ministries and departments provide their new Minister with a briefing on the policy issues and decisions required in their portfolio. They are called Briefings to Incoming Ministers (or BIMs)
This year, some Ministers have chosen to withhold (or redact) substantial amounts of information in these briefings. The MFAT and Communications and IT portfolios are two examples. There are more.
To understand the importance of the BIM and the basis upon which information is withheld from public scrutiny it’s worth reading this thoughtful post from Lawyer John Edwards:
In the months leading up to a general election, officials start preparing their Briefing to the Incoming Minister (BIM). In the months after the general election, these BIMs start getting released.
There are no strict rules about what goes into a BIM, and no special provisions about how or when they are released. They are produced under a convention recorded in the Cabinet Manual that “when a new Minister is appointed, the chief executive of the department concerned must ensure that, as soon as the Minister takes up office, he or she is briefed on the department and the portfolio”.
They range in size and approach, from a comprehensive stocktake of what is happening in the department or Ministry to a manifesto of the ideological drivers of the officials favoured approach to the particular policy.
Edwards advises that:
Anyone who is interested in seeing more of the BIMs than the Government has seen fit to release should simply write to the Minister concerned, and if they stick to their predetermined position about the deletions, ask the Ombudsman to investigate. Perhaps then we will have a clearer idea about the expectations next time around.