Red Alert

The right to know: a blog expóse on the erosion of our democracy

Posted by on September 18th, 2013

Even if we don’t know it, Government is a significant influence in our day to day lives.

People rightly expect that it should behave in a predictable, open and transparent way wherever it can. In a democracy, public confidence relies on citizens knowing what government is doing and why, and being able to take part in debates knowing that the government is listening (not snooping).

Greater public confidence in government through more open government is an important Labour goal.

Achieving this requires continuous vigilance and improvement in the transparency and openness of government. It also requires public pressure to demand it: if that tension did not exist then the institutions of government and politics have no checks and are left open to corruption and exploitation. The media is a critical part of this.

Increasingly, citizens are also taking to the internet and using their own investigative skills and innovations to discover and aggregate information.

But New Zealanders need to have confidence that there is sound democratic process in law-making and the parliamentary process.

They need to have confidence in the public sector being open and transparent; and that political parties are committed to engaging with the public in a more open and transparent way.

Governments have to be able to understand the issues and debates and acknowledge that old ways are being replaced by new ones.

Last election, Labour had a comprehensive “Open Government” policy which set out the need for transparency and access to information (while balancing with the need for “free and frank advice” and protection of “security and commercially sensitive information). Work is well underway for the release of Labour’s updated Open Government policy.

But while digging deeper into this issue, I’ve become increasingly concerned at what I can only conclude is either deliberate or astonishingly reckless non-compliance by this government with the requirements of the Official Information Act (OIA).

Far too often, information requests my Parliamentary colleagues and I ask of ministers or departments are responded to late or inadequately. On a disturbingly large number of occasions, requests are simply not responded to at all. Is this new? No I’m sure it isn’t. Is it getting worse? I think it is.

This concerns me. I’ve been collating examples where ministers and departments have been flouting the requirements of the Act. This list is growing nearly every day.

And as I’m reviewing these examples, what concerns me most is that while my Parliamentary colleagues and I are familiar with the process, the legislation, the game. But many ordinary New Zealanders aren’t.

MPs are aware of how to word questions to get the information sought and escalate any complaint to the Office of the Ombudsman. But if this obfuscation is happening to us, what is the Government doing to average New Zealanders?

Speaking to those who I come across in my work as an MP, I’ve become concerned that so few people know the avenues for access to information. (Although more people are turning to FYI.org.nz - a fantastic initiative that allows anyone with an internet connection to submit an OIA request of Government agencies.)

As I’ve been looking into this, I’ve become determined to find out how badly ministers and departments are failing to meet their obligations.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be blogging on this and the broader issue –  providing stats and examples of obfuscation tactics employed by the departments and ministers, how government watchdog resources are stretched, the Government’s inadequate response to the Law Commission’s review of the OIA and what you, and the next Labour-led government, can do to combat the disrespect being shown for our right to know.

Watch this space.


11 Responses to “The right to know: a blog expóse on the erosion of our democracy”

  1. well, well, well says:

    `Greater public confidence in government through more open government is an important Labour goal.’

    This is a big change from the Clark regime which tried to stifle public debate with the Electoral Act it rammed through prior to the 2008 election – supported by the Greens and NZ First.

    What assurances can you give that this approach will stick if/when a Labour led Government is elected at some future time. After all Labour and it’s support parties do have `form’ in this area.

  2. Jack Ramaka says:

    Honesty and transparency would go a long way in helping Labour rebuild its credibility, as obviously John Key does not know the meaning of those two words.

  3. bbfloyd says:

    “This is a big change from the Clark regime which tried to stifle public debate with the Electoral Act it rammed through prior to the 2008 election – supported by the Greens and NZ First”.

    Welly well well is at it again… making himself a laughing stock as he attempts to use pretzel logic…Earth to tory toady, johnny sparkles may get away with talking out of his exit wound, but he has uncle ruperts “fourth estate” to protect him from the ridicule he deserves….no such luck for cannon fodder such as you…

    Sad really, just how utterly misguided, and frightening just deeply our tory hangers on misunderstand what really is quite simple….

    This exposé, by the way Clare, is a good idea, and one that is well overdue…Any chance of harassing a few “fourth estate” toadies into actually reporting on this? Force the television gossip show hosts(6 o’clock news) to actually publicize it? However reluctantly they may do it..

    I do get exasperated with hearing people complaining about how “labour never says anything” when we know it’s just because the policy of our “news” agencies to not report anything about the labour party unless they can denigrate them in the process….

  4. Jack Ramaka says:

    The Press is controlled by the Tories, they did a hatchet job on Winston Peters in the 2008 Election, and made out National was such a sure thing last election that the apathetic in NZ did not bother to vote.

    We have some dangerous little men running around in blue uniforms controlling this country at present, New Zealanders need to wake up as cronyism is alive and well especially with Johnnie Sparkles at the helm greasing the palms of all and sundry.

  5. well, well, well says:

    bffloyd – try playing the ball not the man.

  6. Vincent says:

    We do not have a proper Democracy in NZ, what we have is a Semiocracy, a weak and partial form Democracy. Why do I say this?

    1. No Constitution, just a weak guide book, ‘Bill of Rights’
    2. List MPs, (50% of Parliament) not directly elected, can act on conscientious votes with no mandate whatsoever.
    3. No binding referendums, so even if many people in NZ want change the government is not required to.

    We should have 3 topics put up for binding referendum in every national election where voters can have their say. 100,000 signatures needed to get on the voting paper for the issue to be decided. THIS is proper Democracy, not what we have now. The system needs to change, otherwise NZ is just a sophisticated version of Fiji, not a real Democracy!

    Vincent

  7. Jack Ramaka says:

    Quickly heading towards a Banana Republic or the 51st State of America if Johnnie Sparkles had his way.

    A “Brighter Future” for who?

    Labour are going to have fun governing after the huge debts Key & English have racked up, will be a hua of a mess to clean up, typical Tory behaviour.

  8. bbfloyd says:

    Welly well well… When “the man” writes something worth responding to, then that’s what will happen…Don’t whine just because you can’t be bothered to make relevant comment that stands up to the slightest scrutiny….Legitimizing party political, reactionary drivel isn’t on the menu…

    I will take the time to thank you for providing an excellent example of how irrelevant, and dishonest the tories arguments tend to be….

    Go on,….I dare you to make relevant, pertinent comments…surprise us, and possibly yourself, and get involved in a “grownup” discourse…

    I will help you get started…. The reason Clare is doing this series of articles is twofold…

    1).. The current raiding party has shown itself to be the most undemocratic, and secretive government I have ever experienced…Thus the need to defend the democratic process through sharing information with constituents so that a basic fundamental of healthy democracy “an informed electorate” isn’t eroded away…. as is happening now..

    2).. Without an independent, and scrupulous fourth estate operating as they are supposed to, it falls on those who would defend our democratic tradition to do their job for them…

    If anyone can add to that list, be my guest….

  9. bbfloyd says:

    Here’s a quote that resonates…

    “The foulest damage to our political life comes not from the ‘secrets’ which they hide from us, but from the little bits of half-truth and disinformation which they do tell us. These are already pre-digested, and then are sicked up as little gobbits of authorised spew. The columns of correspondents in the establishment sheets serve as the spittoons.” – E. P. Thompson, British historian …..

    Sound familiar??

  10. Jack Ramaka says:

    This current Government are the masters of spin with Simon Goebbels the grand master, they must sit back laughing at how they can influence joe public with the spin they put out through their pet muppets in the media.

  11. bbfloyd says:

    “Simon Goebbels”..is that Simon Bridgy the widgie?? our invisible minister of anti labour?

    Or was it Steve”the credits all mine” Joice you meant? The award winning jack-in-the-box, famous for popping up just after other people have fixed things….