All news articles

All our news articles

Delivering news

What's being said

Delivery of policy

Metiria Turei speaks in the debate on the Ombudsmen (Cost Recovery) Amendment Bill

METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green): The Green Party supports this bill because the Official Information Act (OIA) is a critical part of our democracy, and that has been discussed in New Zealand political and legal circles now for a very long time. The issue is the cost. The cost of investigation and the cost of the office should not hinder the transparency that we value as part of our democracy. It should not hinder good governance, and if it does, we need to address that. And I think this bill is one small step towards helping to address the concern that cost constraints hinder our democracy and reduce the transparency of our Government, and citizens deserve much better than that.

In recent times various ombudsmen over the years have raised very serious concerns with Parliament and with MPs about a failure by Government departments, in particular, driven largely by the political will, if you like, or the political intentions of the Ministers at the head of those departments. They have raised concerns that those departments have not responded to the Official Information Act in a way that is in line with the spirit of the law, or, indeed, with the letter of the law. That is a real concern, when Government departments are refusing to engage with the OIA, as it was designed to provide information to citizens. We have had one Ombudsman describe it as a paralysis of democracy, the hindrance that Government departments put in place and the barriers that Government departments put in place for citizens accessing information to which they are entitled. The delays have operated as a paralysis of democracy.

We have had concerns in more recent times, when the Chief Ombudsman, Beverley—

Hon David Parker: Wakem.

METIRIA TUREI: —Wakem, described the lack of funding and the inability for the office to be able to deal with the level of complaints that it gets as appalling. There was one description by an Ombudsman that we may as well kiss democracy goodbye if the OIA does not work properly. I mean, these are very serious concerns from those who are running these offices and who are responsible for protecting the rights of citizens to information from the Government about the decisions that their Governments make.

We have had the previous Prime Minister of the National Government admit that Government departments that he knows of deliberately delay the release of information to citizens, contrary to the letter of the law. I mean, it is not even a breach of the spirit of the law; it is contrary to the letter of the law. The Prime Minister had no problems with the idea that Government departments are breaching the law in order to provide political protection to the Ministers who are making decisions. Colleagues from National have painted quite a rosy picture of the situation with the Official Information Act, but in fact the picture is much worse when you are talking to the people who are engaged in the process. The Prime Minister in question, John Key, who admitted to accepting that Government departments would deliberately delay information in order to protect the political interests of the National Government Ministers, used to also say: "Nothing to fear, nothing to hide". So on the one hand, you know, he argued that if they had nothing to fear they had nothing to hide, and on the other hand he celebrated the fact that Government departments deliberately delay information.

So this bill is simply a means to ensure that Government departments have an incentive to follow the law, because they do not want to be suffering financial penalties as a result, or having to bear the costs of those investigations—an incentive to work with the office to make sure that the investigations that the office is engaged in proceed quickly and openly and transparently, as they are required to do under law. It is actually very much a kind of National kind of corporate, neo-liberal approach to make those departments pay for the costs. Actually, I am surprised that National is opposing it. It is very much within the value set of the National Party—I am kind of surprised by that. But it is actually quite a small measure to provide that incentive for Government departments to meet the requirements of the law and act in service to the New Zealand public, who deserve information that they are entitled to in a timely and reasonable way that is not being withheld—