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Speaker: David Fisher: The OIA arms race

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  • Angela Hart, in reply to Steve Barnes,

    Yup, I think the change to "no surprises" stems from Corngate when Clark was horribly embarrassed because she was ambushed by Campbell and didn't have a clue what he was getting at. The interview was painful to watch and I wasn't able to forgive Campbell for his unfairness for a long time.
    That doesn't excuse the situation we have now with the OIA, but it helps explain it.

    Christchurch • Since Apr 2014 • 614 posts Report Reply

  • nzlemming,

    I think Clark's "no surprises" rule was about letting the minister know information was being released before he/she had to front the media on it. Key's rule is more about "does the minister want this released?"

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 2930 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Barnes, in reply to nzlemming,

    Key's rule is more about "does the minister want this released?"

    That's what ya get with Dictators, power at all costs. That is why I doubt any change for the better under this Government.
    I was having a conversation with a Doctor the other day who reckoned that 90% of people who voted for National were deranged, the other 10% might, actually, be better off.

    Peria • Since Dec 2006 • 5521 posts Report Reply

  • andin,

    90% of people who voted for National were deranged,

    Oh Mass Psychosis your face contorted again, you really must think you are unrecognisable!
    Great post Thanks David.

    raglan • Since Mar 2007 • 1882 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso, in reply to Angela Hart,

    I made a series of OIA requests attempting to get at the information. I've copied the last two (which were to different Ministry people because my previous responses came from them) and the final response to dropbox, which you should be able to access via this link.

    Thank you Angela. The suggestion that NASCs are independent organisations is frankly extraordinary.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7473 posts Report Reply

  • Alfie,

    Here's David Fisher's speech in the Herald. And it appears to be in full.

    Dunedin • Since May 2014 • 1388 posts Report Reply

  • Carol Stewart, in reply to linger,

    Can you give a rough estimate of what proportion of the OIAs made to your school board were vexatious?

    They were all made by the same person with the same motivation ..
    To be fair, the context was that there were a lot of trust problems at the time between the board, the school management and the school community, as the subsequent ERO report identified. But the use of the OIAs in that way was corrosive.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2008 • 822 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    Just thinking about it - isn't an OIA meant to be the method of communication of last resort.

    David's post tracks the change leading to it being used as first port of call.

    But trying to fight for OIAs to be released earlier and with less political interference would seem to be fighting the wrong battle.

    We should instead be fighting to open up the public service as a public resource at all times. The public service should, as a rule, be open access with exceptions few and far between. An OIA should only be necessary where an exception is open to question by the ombusdman.

    I suspect it comes back to the idea of the government as a business and the PM as a CEO. Government should not be a business, we have private enterprise for that.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4451 posts Report Reply

  • Idiot Savant, in reply to Carol Stewart,

    They were all made by the same person with the same motivation ..
    To be fair, the context was that there were a lot of trust problems at the time between the board, the school management and the school community, as the subsequent ERO report identified. But the use of the OIAs in that way was corrosive.

    That doesn't make something "vexatious". According to the Ombudsman, a request is only vexatious if it is such that no reasonable person could possibly consider it to be made in good faith. Your subsequent comments make it clear that these requests did not fall into that category, and if they were refused as such, they were refused improperly.

    Palmerston North • Since Nov 2006 • 1711 posts Report Reply

  • Idiot Savant, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    Just thinking about it - isn't an OIA meant to be the method of communication of last resort.

    No. The OIA is supposed to make government more transparent, by making it easier to get information from them (this may shock people, but pre-OIA, government information was presumed to be secret and it was a crime to disclose it; the OIA repealed the crime and put in place a presumption of openness). Whether people use it as their first or last port of call is entirely up to them.

    Palmerston North • Since Nov 2006 • 1711 posts Report Reply

  • Carol Stewart, in reply to Idiot Savant,

    if they were refused as such, they were refused improperly.

    They weren’t refused. They were all met within the specified timeframe.

    Looking back, they probably just hastened the inevitable changes.
    It’s very debatable that they were made in good faith in the sense that they were not about finding out information but about tying up board processes and scoring points. We had a ministry-supported facilitator working with us at the time, and she didn’t think they were good faith.

    I totally get your point that OIAs are an important tool for making governments more transparent. It just wasn’t a lot of fun to be on the receiving end of, as a parent volunteer.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2008 • 822 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Idiot Savant,

    government information was presumed to be secret

    Except it wasn't treated as such by most government departments. For most departments it was expected that inquiries from the public (even journalists) would be answered as openly and honestly as possible.

    That has changed and using OIA requests does not change it back.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4451 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to nzlemming,

    I think Clark’s “no surprises” rule was about letting the minister know information was being released before he/she had to front the media on it. Key’s rule is more about “does the minister want this released?”

    This.
    Also, under Key, ministers seem to consider fronting to the media and/or public to be optional.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3887 posts Report Reply

  • nzlemming, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    Just thinking about it – isn’t an OIA meant to be the method of communication of last resort.

    Agreeing with I/S on this, and further that all inquiries to a government agency or minister are regarded under the act as OIA inquiries, according to the Ombudsman.

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 2930 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Barnes, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    I suspect it comes back to the idea of the government as a business and the PM as a CEO. Government should not be a business, we have private enterprise for that.

    Hey, if they want it that way then they should accept that we, the Public of New Zealand, are the shareholders of that company and as such it is the job of the board and the CEO to work in the best interests of the shareholders and not themselves.
    As CJ of Sunshine Desserts used to say "I didn't get where I am today by being someone else", Key should take heed...

    "At the end of the day, people have a variety of different relationships with different people."

    Herald
    At the end of the day Mr.Key, the relationship the people of New Zealand will want to have with you is that of Ex-Prime Minister

    Peria • Since Dec 2006 • 5521 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Barnes, in reply to nzlemming,

    all inquiries to a government agency or minister are regarded under the act as OIA inquiries

    "Nice weather today isn't it Minister?"
    "I'll need that in writing.... pleb"

    Peria • Since Dec 2006 • 5521 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Barnes,

    Attachment

    C.J.: I didn't get where I am today by wearing underpants decorated with Beethoven.

    Peria • Since Dec 2006 • 5521 posts Report Reply

  • Idiot Savant, in reply to Carol Stewart,

    They weren’t refused. They were all met within the specified timeframe.

    Good to know.

    I totally get your point that OIAs are an important tool for making governments more transparent. It just wasn’t a lot of fun to be on the receiving end of, as a parent volunteer.

    I understand completely. I've handled a privacy act request as a volunteer, and that wasn't a lot of fun (but very, very educational).

    Palmerston North • Since Nov 2006 • 1711 posts Report Reply

  • Idiot Savant, in reply to nzlemming,

    Agreeing with I/S on this, and further that all inquiries to a government agency or minister are regarded under the act as OIA inquiries, according to the Ombudsman.

    Yes. So under the Take No Shit rule, if you make a polite enquiry and a public servant fobs you off, ask them if that is their final response, because legally they've responded to an OIA request and you can go straight to the Ombudsman. They tend to become cooperative after that, because the one thing worse than an OIA request is an Ombudsman's enquiry.

    Palmerston North • Since Nov 2006 • 1711 posts Report Reply

  • Marc C,

    I respect David Fisher as one of the remaining real, dedicated, investigative and hard working journalists there still are. He raises very valid concerns and points out what has been going on in the public service, and how they deal with OIA requests now.

    "David wrote/said: "The shift really began after the 2005 election, when Helen Clark’s third term threatened to get away from her. I believe what happened then perverted all that has come since, when it comes to media and the public service."

    He also mentions how the "no surprises policy" started with the introduction of the SOEs. Indeed much of what goes on in regards to OIAs now seems to be the result of the public service having adopted "corporate business style communication". Like the present day public service corporations tend to be very mindful of their reputation, their public appearance and image, and for businesses of course their "share values".

    Mistakes, failings, certainly illegal conduct and poor results are all stuff that neither corporations nor government departments and their Ministers like to get to the public. Hence such sensitive information is withheld, where it can be, or the release is delayed to take place in less damaging times.

    The spirit of the OIA legislation though forces the public service to deliver, and to also respect the public interest. There though starts another discussion, what is and what is not in the public interest. And it takes bizarre forms, what is then considered to be in the public interest, as information and reports withheld until recently revealed.

    While talking about delivering "better public services", the government has often done the opposite. It has primarily focused on cost savings, and used past budget deficits as an excuse to justify this. This has not only affected ordinary public service, but also the funding of such key institutions as the Office of Ombudsmen, the Health and Disability Commissioner and Privacy Commissioner offices.

    In underfunding the Ombudsman for years, huge backlogs of complaints sent there have accumulated. Repeatedly Beverley Wakem stated that their office was not able to function properly, as it was under too much work load pressure, and legal obligations to serve, while funding was not allowing for additional staff and so.

    This has only assisted the government and Ministers further, to have media and others get no or very delayed responses to OIA requests. This is certainly an abuse of the OIA law and system. It is not in the public interest to have such a state of affairs, and it is overdue that the Ombudsman investigates public service departments and also ministerial offices, re all these abuses.

    Apparently the Ombudsman has got additional funding now, but I wonder, how long it may take, until we get proper answers as to what has really gone on, and whether it was illegal. Will we get a proper report before the 2017 election, I wonder? Also the Office of Ombudsmen itself may deserve to be looked at, as I know of some getting responses upon complaints that were not satisfactory.

    As for much of the mainstream media, no wonder we get so much reporting on less relevant stuff, while needed information is being withheld, and while this has become the new "normal" in this society. Without transparency and accountability, and with selective release of information, does NZ still deserve to be seen as one of the least corrupt countries, I wonder?

    Akl • Since Oct 2012 • 437 posts Report Reply

  • andin,

    public service corporations tend to be very mindful of their reputation, their public appearance and image,

    The only people they are fooling is themselves.

    raglan • Since Mar 2007 • 1882 posts Report Reply

  • izogi, in reply to A S,

    Partially, it is because they don't have to do the actual donkey work if an Ombudsmens complaint is lodged (which was always a useful tool to motivate junior colleagues to the do the job right the first time), but largely it does come down to not just Ministers but also CEs not wanting anything out there that can make them look bad, or cause bad press.

    I had more of a rant in the other thread, but at the moment I feel that allowing the Ombudsman to invoice agencies for investigations into their OIA handling would go a significant way towards addressing this. On one hand it isolates the Ombudsman's funding from Parliament, so that it can be funded for its actual workload to uphold the law against shoddy agency interpretations, instead of merely the amount of work the government chooses to restrict it to. It also creates a direct financial incentive for OIA compliance which CEOs will be forced to account for in front of Ministers, Treasury and the public.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 1139 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Hooton, in reply to Tom Semmens,

    Great post by David and great first response by Tom, followed by others through discussion. On balance, I prefer David's analysis. Having used and at times misused the OIA as both responder and requester, I agree things are getting worse not better. Act and processes around it need review. Now 32 years old.

    Auckland • Since Aug 2007 • 194 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to giovanni tiso,

    The suggestion that NASCs are independent organisations is frankly extraordinary.

    Really taking the piss, right - and signed off by senior officials.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19688 posts Report Reply

  • nzlemming, in reply to izogi,

    I feel that allowing the Ombudsman to invoice agencies for investigations into their OIA handling would go a significant way towards addressing this. On one hand it isolates the Ombudsman’s funding from Parliament, so that it can be funded for its actual workload to uphold the law against shoddy agency interpretations, instead of merely the amount of work the government chooses to restrict it to. It also creates a direct financial incentive for OIA compliance which CEOs will be forced to account for in front of Ministers, Treasury and the public.

    I like this idea.

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 2930 posts Report Reply

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