The OIA is for all

Sam Sachdeva at The Press reports:

Tobacco companies are trying to pry confidential documents from government departments as they battle a possible crackdown on their trade.

Really? Are they breaking into offices? Blackmailing officials? Stealing secrets?

Information obtained by the Sunday Star-Times revealed legal representatives for several tobacco companies filed at least nine Official Information Act () requests to the Ministry of Health in the past two years for documentation relating to plans to ban brand marks and logos on cigarette packets.

Oh my God. A company asked under the Official Information Act for government papers regarding a proposed policy which would have a massive impact on their business. What a scandal.

Here’s what even funnier. The information on these OIA requests would have been obtained itself under the OIA. So whomever planted this story has used the OIA to attack someone else for using the OIA.

The companies’ requests covered a wide array of information, including documents relating to:

All communication about plain packaging between the Ministry of Health and its Australian, Canadian and British equivalents;

how plain packaging would affect youth and adult smoking rates in New Zealand;

how plain packaging would impact on the intellectual property rights of tobacco manufacturers;

and whether plain packaging would violate any of New Zealand’s trade and investment treaty obligations.

This seems absolutely appropriate requests to make. In fact such info should be public automatically.

British American Tobacco was the most prolific company, with its legal representatives filing six OIA requests during the period.

Six over two years. Hell I sometimes file six OIA requests in a single month.

The requests were largely declined, with Turia citing the “substantial collation or research” required to gather much of the information and the confidentiality of some documents.

However, several Cabinet papers related to plain packaging reform were released, while the companies were told that other information it had requested would soon be publicly available.

The director of anti-tobacco group Action on Smoking and Health (), Ben Youdan, believed the companies were trying to “hold up and bog down” civil servants who had to process the requests.

Nonsense. It annoys me that a taxpayer funded lobby group is complaining about the cost to taxpayers of government departments obeying the OIA law.

If the companies were filing a request every few weeks, they may have a point. But nine requests over two years is stuff all.

If I wrote this story I would ask the MoH how many OIA requests in total they received over two years, and what proportion came from tobacco companies. I’d also ask ASH how many OIA requests have they made.

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