Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Media Take: The creeping politicisation of the OIA

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  • nzlemming, in reply to Russell Brown,

    A scorching Dom Post editorial on the same topic:

    Hmmm. I think this is more of a straw man than a denunciation.

    Wakem is to do a review of the OIA, but these remarks suggest she is not the right person to do it.
    They suggest a disturbing timidity in the face of power.

    1. Attack the watchdog

    Above all, this Government has refused to extend the OIA to Parliament, a glaring gap in the legislation.

    This change would enable voters to know far more about what MPs did, and especially what they spent their expense money on.

    2. Mangle the facts

    a) We already get expense information via the Speaker's releases. That's how we know how much it costs the taxpayers for Labour's "men who would be king' to fly around the country.

    b) Extending the OIA to MP's not in Government (i.e. the opposition) doesn't wash simply because they are not officials. There is a profound difference between the Government (i.e. the Executive, or "Government of the Day") and the government (i.e. the permanent structure that serves the GotD, which we used to call MoG or "machinery of government"), but there is an even wider and important constitutional gap between government of any stripe and the Legislature, of which the GotD is only a subset. Drawing non-GotD members into the OIA argument is guaranteed to see it fail, and should.

    Extending it to Parliamentary Services, Select Committees and other offices of Parliament is a different matter, as they are officials. Sometimes, getting info out of a Select Committee makes the OIA feel like a cakewalk.

    I detect a certain amount of self-service in the ComPost's argument - life would be a lot easier for, say, Phil Kitchin if he could routinely demand minutes of Opposition Caucus meetings, for example.

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 2932 posts Report Reply

  • Idiot Savant, in reply to nzlemming,

    "Extending the OIA to Parliament" means precisely Parliamentary Services, select committees, MP's expenses etc (which are a public money and so subject to public scrutiny). Pretending anyone wants it to go beyond that into the affairs of political parties is simply mischevious.

    Palmerston North • Since Nov 2006 • 1716 posts Report Reply

  • Dean Wallis,

    Could/would/should this entire topic be one that we can expect the MSM to investigate and report on?

    Or have they started already?
    Mormon address mystery surrounding undergarments

    Point Chevalier • Since Jan 2013 • 45 posts Report Reply

  • Rowan Crawford,

    To pass these on, I did some stats on OIA requests. Bear in mind that the numbers fyi.org.nz sees are a small fraction of total OIAs, and that the categorisation relies on the users.

    This is a rolling six month outstanding count/median time/average time: https://gist.github.com/wombleton/9477e88cc0a3de0236ab

    Note that the "outstanding" count is for outstanding *now* — so, yes, there are outstanding OIA requests from 2012.

    If you have an appetite for wrestling with data here's the raw output up until 1 Oct 2014: https://gist.githubusercontent.com/wombleton/934dde2686b7a432dc52/raw/0bbff139cecffa02f947cbcca1b4703ab45070df/output.json My understanding is that Hayden Glass is going to have a go, but the more the merrier.

    On my "do one day, assuming $ & time" list is to put some visibility in front of Ombudsman complaints, assuming that no such official system will be forthcoming.

    Auckland • Since Oct 2008 • 27 posts Report Reply

  • Tinakori, in reply to nzlemming,

    "Fail. There were plenty of political advisors in the 90's under Bolger/Shipley/ et al"

    There most definitely were not in the Bolger governments. I can think of one outside the Prime Minister's Office and they were a former electorate secretary. They also did not have the political advisor title. I can think of some troubleshooters in various offices but they weren't political advisors and usually did not work full-time. I can also think of some private sector people but they didn't do political advice other than informally. Matthew Hooton was there but he was a 20 year old speechwriter. Press secretaries did most of the work of what Labour's political advisors subsequently carried out but many Ministers in National were not interested in having political advice of any kind. For good or ill they thought they and other cabinet ministers provided all the political advice required. They were probably right! Labour introduced political advisors for all in 1999, slavishly following, as ever, the UK Labour Party.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2013 • 118 posts Report Reply

  • David Hood, in reply to Rowan Crawford,

    For the R users, this gets the pertinent data into a data frame, but I haven't had time to clean up the dates etc.

    library(downloader)
    download("https://gist.githubusercontent.com/wombleton/934dde2686b7a432dc52/raw/0bbff139cecffa02f947cbcca1b4703ab45070df/output.json", "output.json")
    library(jsonlite)
    tabdata <- fromJSON("output.json", flatten=TRUE)$requests

    Dunedin • Since May 2007 • 1445 posts Report Reply

  • NBH, in reply to Tinakori,

    There most definitely were not in the Bolger governments. I can think of one outside the Prime Minister's Office and they were a former electorate secretary

    I'm not sure that Eichbaum's work - which is pretty the definitive research into this in NZ - bears this out. For e.g. in 'Enemy or ally? Senior officials' perceptions of ministerial advisers before and after MMP' (2006), Eichbaum and Shaw identify a total of 39 political advisors in 98 (rising to 50 in 99 and remaining pretty stable around that level until a spike in 2004). They do claim that previously the term 'Executive Assistant' was commonly used for these roles, and that through the early 2000s it became more common to use a designation like 'Ministerial Advisor'.

    Wellington • Since Oct 2008 • 97 posts Report Reply

  • Marc C,

    Within the circles I move in, abuse of the OIA is "standard" practice. It may also have been difficult to get some info out of government departments and ministries under the last Labour government, but it has certainly been MUCH, MUCH worse since 2008.

    While MSD used to be reasonable with answering most requests, it got shockingly worse under the ministerial "oversight" of Paul Bennett (aka "Beneshit").

    There has been little revealed re the evaluation of welfare reforms, re actual job figures, and who moves onto or off benefits.

    You may recall these posts on this blog:

    http://publicaddress.net/speaker/how-is-government-evaluating-its-welfare/

    http://publicaddress.net/speaker/1600-beneficiaries-moving-into-work-each/

    Parliament's session today was rather revealing, as PM John Key was trying to "split" his personality and role somehow, separating his communications with the controversial blogger Cameron Slater (aka "Slayer" or "Whalespoil") from his Prime Ministerial role, also before and during the election campaign.

    I am a bit disappointed of Labour though, ALL leading Labour persons and MPs were presented highly controversial info on welfare and the new way they use to "assess" sick and disabled for "work ability", but that was not deemed as important for the election. They simply bypassed close to 300 thousand potential voters, them being beneficiaries. Now the media seem to be succeeding in moving Labour even more away from that potential voter base.

    It is disgusting what MSD and the government are covering up, and I know of persons having various OIAs still before MSD, with the Ombudsman, and even at a higher level. It is all moving at "snail's pace', even after recent media revelations, and it is disgusting, what goes on in this country, that is supposed to be one of the most "transparent" and uncorrupted countries in the world, also calling itself a democracy.

    The last election, the way it was run, the way media reported on it, it sounds rather like a "demockeracy", than a functioning, true democracy.

    It is time to bring out the truth about it all, time to hold Mr Key and is "dirty men and women" to account.

    Akl • Since Oct 2012 • 437 posts Report Reply

  • Marc C,

    Does anybody wonder now, why Paula Benefit did suddenly want to move to have other "portfolios"? It is blatantly obvious, that her inexcusable conduct as Minister was going to get back to her and haunt her, in that MSD portfolio at least.

    Paula must have thought: "Hey, this is getting over my head now, shit will hit the fan, I better opt out". And then she asked: "Hey, John, I'd really like another job, have you one for me?" And John answered, sensing the problems to come, "hey, yes, there is always a new job for you, dear Paula, you have served us well, getting all those "bludgers" scared to death, so we will be able to throw more of them off benefits, I will look after you."

    We now know the rest of the story, and Paula Benefit should be hunted down, for her responsibilities, while she enjoys (so far) another easier, sweet job on the front bench, hiding behind second up, Blinglish!

    Where is the damned "media" in this country, where are they? They are NOT doing their damned jobs!

    Akl • Since Oct 2012 • 437 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie, in reply to Tinakori,

    There most definitely were not in the Bolger governments. I can think of one outside the Prime Minister’s Office and they were a former electorate secretary. They also did not have the political advisor title. I can think of some troubleshooters in various offices but they weren’t political advisors and usually did not work full-time. I can also think of some private sector people but they didn’t do political advice other than informally. Matthew Hooton was there but he was a 20 year old speechwriter. Press secretaries did most of the work of what Labour’s political advisors subsequently carried out but many Ministers in National were not interested in having political advice of any kind. For good or ill they thought they and other cabinet ministers provided all the political advice required. They were probably right! Labour introduced political advisors for all in 1999, slavishly following, as ever, the UK Labour Party.

    To a point-scoring partisan suckhole it all comes down to semantics.

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 4593 posts Report Reply

  • B Jones, in reply to nzlemming,

    Not if you build those steps into document creation. Most government agencies use a document management system, many have implemented EDRMS – all the tools are there, just not the wit nor will to use them.

    Have you used a government document management system? You want bureaucrats to add more steps to every email, every meeting request, every piece of work they produce, to solve the problem that a small percentage of stuff that gets requested gets gamed? It's an enormously cumbersome solution that doesn't actually address the problem. I can think of several ways to separate the decision to release from political considerations without making it a nightmare for both users and officials.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 976 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Hooton,

    Tinakori is right. There were no dedicated "political advisors" in the 1990s. The press secretary would provide political advice, but had to take media calls, write media releases and speeches, work with the department etc. These new "ministerial advisers" must have a great life - they get to play in politics without having to do the other work we had to in the 1990s. And, in truth, most press secretary jobs in the 1990 weren't really full time (outside PMO, Finance, education, health etc). So god knows what the political advisor to the minister of statistics does all day.

    Auckland • Since Aug 2007 • 194 posts Report Reply

  • Marc C, in reply to nzlemming,

    The "watchdog" is being challenged, by the way, I cannot disclose more!

    Akl • Since Oct 2012 • 437 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Marc C,

    Au contraire. Bennett is far from in trouble. She is being deployed to spread the 'investment' approach introduced in MSD across more government agencies, in what Bill English was describing before the election as the biggest shake-up of the public service in 50 years. But did we see him pressed for detail about that? Or read anywhere that introducing an actuarial approach is often a prelude to privatisation (as intended with ACC)?

    Instead we have a remarkable media consensus that this government will be 'bland'. Sheep.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19706 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Joe Wylie,

    To a point-scoring partisan suckhole it all comes down to semantics.

    Not helping, Joe. I'm happy to have people offer different perspectives here, and I think it's possible to critique the perspective without attacking the person like that.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22825 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to B Jones,

    I take your point about the extra workload but I do like the notion of government releasing well-structured info that others can do stuff with. Open Govt.

    How about a blanket ruling that some classes of document are always to be published openly in structured electronic form (which might also avoid people wasting extra time making them look pretty)? Alongside that, the current request-triggered approach could apply to trickier sorts of info like early drafts, internal memos, file notes, etc.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19706 posts Report Reply

  • Tinakori, in reply to Joe Wylie,

    39 Political advisors in 1998 - they must have been hiding them in the Beehive basement or perhaps they were part of the NSA base in Northland Ed Snowden is convinced we have. I suspect that the identification of ministerial advisors as political advisors in that study was made to give the impression the introduction of the political advisors in bulk under Labour was a simple and not very significant progression from the existing setup. That wasn't the case at all.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2013 • 118 posts Report Reply

  • Tinakori, in reply to Russell Brown,

    To which I would add the distinctions I was making were most definitely not semantic but substantive.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2013 • 118 posts Report Reply

  • Marc C, in reply to Sacha,

    Sacha, it is always an expert tactical move, to shift people that "may" get into "trouble" into new "competency areas", so to make them look like improving and enhancing their careers.

    The "clutter" they may have left behind is conveniently shifted into the background, by putting the focus onto the NEW job.

    So I take your argument to a point, but it is not sufficiently convincing.

    Akl • Since Oct 2012 • 437 posts Report Reply

  • Marc C, in reply to Matthew Hooton,

    So it is neither here nor there, just a kind of interpretation of title and role, but we are non the wiser re what happens, and what happened.

    Akl • Since Oct 2012 • 437 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Marc C,

    she's doing the same thing in the new role - hardly consistent with hiding it, as a motivation.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19706 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Tinakori,

    the NSA base in Northland

    Warkworth, you mean

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19706 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Not helping, Joe. I’m happy to have people offer different perspectives here, and I think it’s possible to critique the perspective without attacking the person like that.

    It would have been better if I'd refrained. That said, I can't see any way around cultivating a level of self-abasement in order to pretend that certain "different perspectives" are offered in good faith.

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 4593 posts Report Reply

  • Marc C, in reply to Sacha,

    Lower profile she has, getting away with the same, but she has a number of "areas" now, and they all seem to be subordinate, of sorts, so less "profile".

    Akl • Since Oct 2012 • 437 posts Report Reply

  • andin,

    Some people are natural control freaks and others are not.

    So we're back to being dependent on how control freakish a person in a position of power happens to be!
    And I was hoping a governmental future was going to get past all that.
    Hmm... peoples will be peoples, just dont let the control freakish types near the levers. whoops too late..twiddle... turn... me, me, me, control freak me knows best.
    DONKEY!
    We'll never learn...sigh

    raglan • Since Mar 2007 • 1890 posts Report Reply

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