Labour’s Open Government policy

November 18th, 2011 at 3:28 pm by David Farrar

Labour have released their open government policy. Readers may recall I attended one of their open meetings discussing what could go into the policy.

There is quite a lot of good stuff in the policy, but first I need to point out the huge wriggle room they have left. The policy is more a “we may do this” than “we will do this”:

The draft principles set out above are an ideal-world and ambitious charter for driving change in the practices of government at all levels.

Implementing policy that gives effect to such principles can only happen incrementally over time.

Even so, Labour acknowledges that the changes this policy sets out are challenging to some parts of government, and to the existing operational approach of the public sector.

That is why a carefully considered implementation is important, with ample time for public debate on the principles, and consultation and reflection before any changes are made.

I thought the consultation and public debate had already happened. Wasn’t that the point of the exercise?

Labour will produce a comprehensive “Open Government Charter”, based on the draft principles set out above, and seek public consultation and discussion to inform future decisions about how to open up government.

The Charter will include as matters for consultation the following specific suggestions, most of which emerged from the OpenLabourNZ process

So all the suggestions, remain just that – suggestions. Would it have been that difficult to at least commit to a couple of them?

Now having a “we might do it” policy is better than no policy at all, so I do still think it is a good thing they have this policy, and I hope the next Government, regardless of which party is in power, looks to implement the good policy proposals there, such as:

Establish as default practice Ministers and government agencies releasing all Cabinet papers and other relevant papers onto a dedicated website, in line with the Official Information Act (the Act), once a decision is announced by government. Exceptions will apply for security or commercially sensitive information and other areas already set out in the Act, with the usual request and appeal processes continuing to apply where the
government does not release papers by default.

This is one I have personally championed. What I see is a website where all Cabinet level information is placed automatically, and also all OIA requests of any nature are placed. At present lots of information is released, but only to the requester, which means others can not benefit from it.

Work towards publishing or broadcasting all public Parliamentary proceedings (such as Select Committees) over the Internet and digital television.

Would be great to be able to see MPs at their best, rather than merely in the House where often it is at their worst.

Develop a trial of online voting in local government and general elections.

Hopefully there will be a trial for the 2013 local body elections, if the bureaucrats don’t manage to suffocate the process.

There’s also some good stuff on open data and software.

UPDATE: No Right Turn blogs:

The big criticism? It doesn’t go far enough, especially in the latter. For example, there’s no suggestion of bringing Parliament under the OIA, to allow proper transparency around MPs expenses (or indeed, a public right to access its proceedings and oversee its administration). Despite the high degree of public input, this is still an open government policy written by and in the interests of politicians, who benefit from secrecy in these areas. Still, it is much better than anything else on offer in this area, and deserves our support (while of course demanding more).

I am in favour of the expenses part of the The Parliamentary Service being subject to the OIA. I don’t think the entire PS can come in under the OIA as MPs and their staff need to be able to have private conversations and e-mails, but the aspects relating to the use of public money certainly could be.

The alternative is my suggestion that all Government agencies must list on a searchable website all payments over a minimal amount.

OIA Reform

September 30th, 2010 at 10:49 am by David Farrar

Yet to read the full discussion paper, but on the basis of the Herald report, the direction looks promising:

The paper strongly supported greater use of proactively releasing information, an idea that is gaining traction in the Open Labour NZ debate on a more transparent Government.

I have been pushing this issue for well over a year, and delighted to see the Law Commission of a similar view. The Internet age makes it practical and desirable for information to be released, even in the absence of a specific request. The problem with the status quo, is people often don’t know that a document exists, so they can’t request it.

Talking of Open Labour, they have now distilled 63 suggested actions for open government from their consultation. You can vote on them here.

I’d urge readers to vote, and vote in good faith, on what they would like to see as policy. You do need to register to vote, so if you get permission denied, go to the top right and register.


September 22nd, 2010 at 8:40 am by David Farrar

Clare Curran blogs:

Do you want to contribute to Labour’s policy on open and transparent government?

Following the public event on OpenLabourNZ at the end of August a draft policy on open and transparent government is now available for comment.

If you would like to have a look at the draft policy it is now up on the wiki here.

You have until the beginning of October to comment on it. Your input and thoughts are welcome and important.

Labour will then have their conference in October, where their policy will be considered at a workshop, and hopefully work their way into the manifesto.

If you have a genuine desire to improve their policy, go to the wiki and suggest enhancements.

Some of the ideas which I hope make it into policy are:

  • Open Parliament to the OIA within limits
  • An OIA website with automatic release level
  • Publish agenda of Ministerial meetings along with papers
  • Public sector data and information should be seen as a “national resource” and be released free of charge as a matter of course with exceedingly rare exceptions
  • All research done by ministries and their advice to the minister should be put on the internet in an easily searchable database
  • All payments (and receipts) of Government should be available for scrutiny
  • Create policies and guidelines to allow public servants to use social media
  • That Parliamentary proceedings such as Select Committees be broadcast over the internet and television
  • To help engage citizens, let’s run a contest. Let’s get MAF (or Landcare or both) to release four datasets and we’ll run a contest for the best mashup using the data. “Best” means “has the most value for NZ citizens.” The winner must be a Kiwi, and wins one hour of face-time with the minister of MAF.

To some degree this is the easy part. The challenge will be getting the party to formally commit to doing some of these as part of their manifesto.

For me that is a win-win. If Labour wins, then at least they will have some policies I approve of. And if they adopt some of these policies, it may encourage National in that direction also.

The OpenLabourNZ conference

August 30th, 2010 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The NZ Herald reports:

Need Winz advice or want to challenge Government policy? Just leave a comment on the minister’s Facebook page.

An open, transparent government should interact with the public using the internet and social media, the Labour Party says.

The party held its first OpenLabourNZ conference at the weekend, promising to improve transparency and ways the public can engage the Government. …

Kiwiblogger and National Party member David Farrar, who attended the conference, said it remained to be seen what the Labour Party would adopt.

“But they’ve been having a good open process to get people’s ideas. Often in policy development, a party is pretty opaque, where you just see what comes out in the end.”

The highlights for me were the video contributions from Andrew Raseij from the US, and Senator Kate Lundy of Australia. The best ideas are often already being implemented somewhere else, and this was no different. We also had Senator Lundy’s advisor, Pia Waugh, who was a non stop source of good ideas and enthusiasm.

Turnout was a bit down on what I expected for an event like this, but it was good to see half a dozen MPs there, including Phil Goff. Culture changes only happen if the leadership buys into it – otherwise it becomes a silo.

The Open Labour Wiki will be updated with some of the ideas from the conference, and I look forward to seeing what formal policy emerges from the process.

A case in point

August 28th, 2010 at 8:18 pm by David Farrar

At the #openlabournz conference earlier today, there was a good discussion about how social media can help improve interactions with Government, and we focused specifically on getting a culture in the public service where staff can engage in social media.

I made the point that the problem is the media can take a flippant comment online, and treat it as a press release, and demand the CEO comment on it or respond to it. My suggestion was that a good CEO should tell anyone who comes to them with a media inquiry about a flippant comment on Facebook or Twitter, that the person needs a life and the CEO is too busy with real issues.

In the few hours since the conference, we’ve had a perfect example of this play out – but with MPs not public servants.

In the House on Thursday, Melissa Lee embellished her question to Judith Collins of “Can she explain the reasons behind the record low number of escapes” by adding on “except for the fact she is such a fantastic minister”.

Nikki Kaye promptly facebooked that Melissa’s effort should win her “brown nosing backbencher of the year”.

Now Nikki and Melissa are good mates. Melissa actually responds to “Blondie” in the facebook thread. It is very obviously two mates having a friendly hassle.

Then early this morning on Red Alert Trevor Mallard posted a screenshot of the Facebook thread. It is bloody obvious that it is a friendly exchange. They even have Melissa doing a lol on it.

So far so good. But then someone at NewstalkZB thinks this is somehow a newsworthy story. They actually dispatch a reporter to phone Nikki Kaye up and ask her why she called a colleague a brown noser, and does she think John Key would approve of it.

For fuck’s sake. This was the exact point I was making at the Labour conference. An idiot media outlet thinking that a piece of friendly banter is somehow a news story, let alone some sort of scandal that the Prime Minister might need to be informed about.

The Prime Minister, I am confident to predict, would find the exchange as funny as most people would.

What really annoys me is that the consequences of such media stupidity is to encourage our MPs to become automatons – never showing any personality or humour – playing everything safe, just to avoid a potentially bad media story.

Good policy is good policy

August 27th, 2010 at 3:54 pm by David Farrar

It may surprise some, but I am attending, and in fact will be a panelist, at a Labour Party conference tomorrow.

It is the OpenLabourNZ conference, and the agenda is on Red Alert. The focus is on how to make Government more open.

I believe the Internet, and other tools, has huge potential to help open up Government. I was pleased to be invited to contribute, and my response was that I am a big believer that good policy is good policy, regardless of the source. There is no monopoly on good ideas.

So I’m looking forward to attending, and seeing what eventuates. One of the advantage of opposition is you are able to take a step back from governing, and look at whether there is a better way one can do things.

Open Labour

May 3rd, 2010 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Last week Clare Curran blogged on #OpenLabourNZ, an experiment at a new way of developing policy.

Quite fittingly, the first policy they wish to try and develop this way is on “open and transparent government”.

Now this is not quite a write the policy by wiki:

Will you be writing Labour policy?
We want to be upfront with you from the beginning

Your input will contribute to Labour’s policy. The #openlabournz document will be taken as a key input for Labour to consider in developing its policy, noting the other drivers and that there will be changes possibly made between it and the final policy. However, please be assured that the final output will be of high quality, and that high quality suggestions are always taken very seriously in Labour Party policy development.

Labour is of course a political party and politics will dictate what the final policy looks like and how it is arrived at. Once the #openlabournz document is completed, we will keep you posted about where the policy is at, and where it ends up. Labour’s policy finalisation process is for Labour members and you’re welcome to participate in that next step through the usual route of joining the party.

I think this is a welcome initiative, and I certainly look forward to participating in it. I thought Labour did a good job of involving interested stakeholders in their change of policy on S92A, with open stakeholder meetings.

In a follow up post, Clare gets into the process:

This is a brainstorming phase. We want to hear all your ideas, suggestions, and the issues you think are important regards open and transparent government. At this stage any contribution is welcome and valid, no matter how left field. Blog posts, links to news articles and reports or research, commentary on what’s happening in other countries, your half thought through or fully structured thoughts, anything is welcome.

It would be great if you could use the OpenLabourNZ tag whenever you write about the issue. This will make it easier for us to find and aggregate your input.

Later on there will be a wiki also.

So what are my initial ideas for an open and transparent government policy.

  1. My previous suggestion that all Cabinet level documents be automatically placed on the Internet by DPMC within six months of creation.
  2. Expanding Parliament TV to include select committees
  3. Requiring all payments (above a modest threshold) from a Govt agency to be listed on a central website
  4. Requiring the Attorney-General to not just publish an opinion on BORA compliance for a first reading of a bill, but also at second and third readings

I am sure given time, I can think of some more. Readers are invited to contribute their ideas below, as these will all feed into the policy process.

Labour will be Government again at some stage. I welcome the opportunity to have input into some of their policies, even though I know I will disagree with many of them. Well done to them on their initiative.