OIA and Parliament

Isaac Davidson writes in the NZ Herald:

The Government’s decision not to extend the Official Information Act to Parliament is “entirely specious”, a former Prime Minister and president of the Law Commission says.

I’m amused that so many supporters of opening Parliament to the OIA, refused to do so when they were in Parliament and could have done so.

In announcing the proposals on Monday, Justice Minister Judith Collins said New Zealand had an open government by international standards and Parliament already made a great deal of information available.

She told the Herald yesterday: “While it may be tempting for a Government to have access to Opposition parties’ research and funding data, extending the OIA to include the offices of Parliament would see Opposition parties unnecessarily scrutinised.”

A lot of people don’t realise this. Ministers are already subject to the OIA, so extending it would actually be giving the Government the ability to file OIAs to the Opposition seeking draft policy papers, staff advice, spending details etc.

The Green Party supported the proposal to extend the OIA to parliamentary business, but the Labour Party did not.

My view is that the OIA should apply to Parliament for financial matters, but not documents and communications. As stated above, I think it would be chilling and unfair to Opposition MPs to have to battle OIA requests around their political strategy, draft policies etc. However their expenditure of public money is a different matter, and hence my compromise is to have financial documents come under the OIA. It is worth noting of course that since 2009 there has been a huge increase in financial transparency already.

Labour’s open government spokeswoman, Clare Curran, said her party instead supported proactive release of documents to a dedicated website.

That is a good idea.

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