Government: 'Hold your horses' on transparency

There will be no review of the Official Information Act any time soon, the Government says. Photo: Shane Cowlishaw

Opinion: As we enter the second half of the Government’s first year in office, can it claim to be the more open and transparent regime it promised to be?

So far, no way.

While in opposition, Labour railed against the secrecy of National, for its refusal to release documents, its unnecessary redactions, and for operating in the shadows.

It will be different if you vote us in, they vowed.

Cabinet papers and the like would be regularly released ahead of time. The Official Information Act was to be treated with the respect it deserves. We want the public to trust us, to know what we’re doing, they claimed.

With the Government’s first Budget to be revealed today and ministers firmly entrenched in their roles, none of this has materialised.

I can’t lie, I expected it to be this way.

But I would be lying if I said I hadn't been holding onto a glimmer of hope in my cold, cynical journalist heart that perhaps things would be better.

In 2012, the Law Commission published its review of the Act and made over 100 recommendations.

It noted the chance to review such an important piece of legislation arises infrequently, and to keep pace with both the digital world and the global community the opportunity should be taken.

It wasn’t by the previous government, and it won’t be by this one any time soon.

Earlier this week, the Council for Civil Liberties put out a disappointed press release noting that Justice Minister Andrew Little had written a letter ruling out a review of the OIA.

In response, the Government is excusing itself by claiming it never promised legislative change.

Technically, that may be true. But until recently, some of them were certainly for it.

Back in December, Clare Curran, who is responsible for creating a more open and transparent government, told Newsroom  that she would review the act alongside Little.

She also supported giving the Ombudsman the power to issue fines for breaches of the act, a measure that was promoted by Labour in a short-lived member’s bill.

Asked this week whether he supported the idea, Little said no.

He argued that the legislation was fine at present, but perhaps the way it was being treated needed to be investigated.

The proactive release of information is also apparently being explored.

That’s all well and good. I believe there is little wrong with the drafting of the legislation.

It is the way it's treated by the public service that's the problem, and letting the Government simply tinker away with an undetermined timeframe and no official review process to be accountable to mean this issue will likely get pushed to the back of the bus until it's forgotten.

Curran told media she would still be dusting off the Law Commission’s report along with a piece of work the previous Chief Ombudsman Beverley Wakem completed before leaving the post, and said there was no backing away from commitments.

“That’s not the case, it’s just that it hasn’t happened yet. There are several ministers, I’m not the minister responsible for the OIA, I’m the Open Government Minister who looks right across government and, can I say, 'Just hold your horses’ as they say.”

Well, minister, we’ve been holding on for a long time now. The problem is, those grasping the reins have no interest in moving forward.