My general stance on OIA requests and PQs is that Ministers should look to comply in a timely manner with their obligations. Yes they can be annoying fishing expeditions, but that is the price of an open Government.
So I have had some sympathy for Chris Hipkins inability to get answers out of Richard Worth.
However upon reading that Chris has filed a massive 1,500 questions already, and how braod they are, my sympathies are starting to lean back. I’m not advocating MPs should have a limit on how many they can ask, but the broadness of Hipkins’ request is very very wide. Tracy Watkins has details:
8530 (2008) Question: Chris Hipkins to the Minister of Internal Affairs (10 Dec 2008): What are the dates and titles of all reports, briefings and submissions he has received from the Department of Internal Affairs since 19 November 2008?
8532 (2008) Question: Chris Hipkins to the Minister of Internal Affairs (10 Dec 2008): Which stakeholder groups has he met with since becoming Minister for Internal Affairs and on what date did he meet them?
8533 (2008) Question: Chris Hipkins to the Minister of Internal Affairs (10 Dec 2008): Has he received any reports, briefings or submissions from any department, ministry or agency other than the Department of Internal Affairs since he became Minister, if so, what are the dates and titles of those reports?
8751 (2008): Chris Hipkins to the Minister of Internal Affairs (15 Dec 2008): What official engagements has the Minister had to date as Minister of Internal Affairs; for each, when did they occur, and what was the purpose?
Maybe National did this also, but asking every Minister for the details of every report, every meeting, and every engagement is getting close to abusive.
Now don’t get me wrong – National also did fishing expeditions – but normally more targeted ones in my memory. Stuff like “How many staff have credit cards and how much was charged to them in the last year”. This would then allow the MP to do a press release which would often get picked up.
Other questions I recall are “How many communications staffers does each agency have”. This then leads to a PR saying the Government has 872 spin doctors or whatever the amount is.
Personally if I was Chris, I would try asking more specific questions to Dr Worth, and seeing if he then got more helpful answers.
At the end of the day though an MP does have the right to ask these questions, and should get helpful answers, where practical. But as Tracy says there is a cost:
It might pay to remind MPs, however, that taxpayers are bearing the costs of this little game of cat and mouse – and the costs involved are by no means tiny.
MPs will often lodge dozens of questions, one to every minister, requiring information that, in some cases, can date back years. The man hours involved are staggering. Reams of bureaucrats have been employed throughout the public service in recent years whose jobs mostly involve responding to PQs.
My recommendation to Ministers is to do what Max Bradford did in the 1990s. Answer all questions submitted, but include in the answer the estimated cost of answering the question. And keep a running total so at the end of the year the taxpayers can find out how much money each MP has cost through PQs. That would provide an incentive to be more targeted with your requests.Tags: Chris Hipkins, PQs