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Speaker: David Fisher: The OIA arms race

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  • nzlemming, in reply to Stephen R,

    Most people doing these things are smart enough to know that’s possible, and not well trained enough to know exactly how to make sure that there are no traces of the material they want to censor still in the document.

    I have noticed that NZTA and MBIE have got a lot better technically at document redaction over the last three years ;-)

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 2930 posts Report Reply

  • llew40,

    A good piece and thought-provoking. Some thoughts:

    a man with a question the public wants answering connecting with the public servant who has the information.

    Is it possibly a bit hyperbolic to say that media questions are by definition ones that the "public wants answering"? - thats not always been my experience,

    Is it possible that media have also been complicit in driving the perversion/expansion of the "no surprises" policy by reducing all bureacratic cock-ups to a public call for some political head to roll? (or by giving a megaphone to an opposition politician who will use it to make that call?).

    Since Nov 2012 • 140 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    Like modern farming, the busines model of our private residential care/rest home market is underpinned by capital gains on land. They also convert some wages into profits for shareholders in the meantime, while complaining they don’t get a big enough public subsidy. And that's without having to cope with overheads like answering OIA requests.

    If the argument for private provision is more efficient or innovative service, I have yet to see evidence of that in this industry.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19686 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Barnes, in reply to nzlemming,

    I have noticed that NZTA and MBIE have got a lot better technically at document redaction over the last three years ;-)

    There is a way of extracting redacted data from documents that relies on word length, repetition and probability, unfortunately this method is unreliable at best for redacted sections and either way it is only a probability rather than actuality. Still a great deal of fun for sleuthing nerds. ;-)

    Peria • Since Dec 2006 • 5521 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Barnes, in reply to Sacha,

    If the argument for private provision is more efficient or innovative service, I have yet to see evidence of that in this industry.

    I have yet to see it in any industry. The only argument for privatising that gets offered is that public bodies are inefficient and, let's face it, the public service often appears to be about empire building at the public expense and that is the root of that problem.
    The only reason for privatisation and this is what we see coming from National, is to give lucrative contracts to their supporters and companies that members have shares in, a corrupt practice if there ever was one. The ideology is one of greed and avarice.

    Peria • Since Dec 2006 • 5521 posts Report Reply

  • izogi, in reply to Steve Barnes,

    The other side of that is the excuse that the OIA is expensive and should be curtailed.

    It depends on perspective, really, given the cost of Ombudsmans’ investigations, invoiced or directly funded, could be greatly reduced if government agencies did their jobs and complied with the law in the first place. Maybe a criminal incentive is needed, but it might be harder to get genuine results with so many opportunities for Ministers and public servants to deflect responsibility. It might be decades before there’s a precedent, if ever.

    But I take the point that there are conflicting political goals and spin. Someone would doubtless jump a soap-box to shout “compliance is hard”, and that type of resistance will always be a problem with making the system more effective. But right now, the Ombudsman’s funding is just a token nod to make it appear there’s a valiant effort for compliance when in practice it’s a mechanism for parliament to put a leash on the office, or let it be overloaded, whenever it’s deemed politically inconvenient.

    My own argument for invoicing, even if agencies can find the money, would be that it turns a difficult-to-enforce law into a financial line that would have to show up on budgets, and have be explained in those terms to people who care about money. It also puts the costs where they lie, as part of a project’s budget within an agency, instead of having an Ombudsman needing to handle often unpredicted spikes of complaints on a flat budget, because of the whim of a Minister.

    I think it’d be worth debating, anyway. It’s a shame that Parliament booted out the idea a couple of years ago without any serious consideration.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 1139 posts Report Reply

  • popbot,

    Please know that there are people in the Public Service that wholeheartedly and passionately agree with you, David. And just as the insidious creep of 'delay/withhold/control release' took time to clench into a fist, the desire to unclench it is gaining momentum only in very tiny increments, pulses of brave influence at the right time, in the right places. But I believe enough of the right public servants remain, those who hold steadfastly to the view that, serving the public interest is always what should be at the heart of the work. I believe there's enough of those people in service to call the pendulum to swing back. Eventually.

    Meantime, please accept my rapturous applause.

    Wellington • Since Oct 2014 • 1 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Barnes, in reply to izogi,

    My own argument for invoicing, even if agencies can find the money, would be that it turns a difficult-to-enforce law into a financial line that would have to show up on budgets, and have be explained in those terms to people who care about money.

    I have to agree with you there. The fact of the matter is that the trip to the ombudsman's office shouldn't be necessary, information requested through the OIA shouldn't be necessary. The information is ours to begin with, we, the public, own the public service, we have a right to know what they are doing on our behalf.

    eta..
    As Popbot says above, some in the public service appreciate this fact.

    Peria • Since Dec 2006 • 5521 posts Report Reply

  • Adam H, in reply to Jan Rivers,

    Productivity Commission

    Every time I see that term I chuckle.

    Military Intelligence.

    Auckland • Since Oct 2014 • 26 posts Report Reply

  • Idiot Savant, in reply to A S,

    Just tacking an offence with a 2 year max sentence on it would introduce the spectre of transgressing ministers being kicked out of parliament for good, and it would spell career death for public servants too.

    More importantly, it would give public servants something to point to to justify standing up to Ministers: "I could go to jail for this, and I'm not doing that for you".

    Palmerston North • Since Nov 2006 • 1711 posts Report Reply

  • Angela Hart, in reply to Idiot Savant,

    The trouble is that the way things are works wonderfully well for those in power. Unless that changes, why should they fix it? They're ashamed of the tactics being used, evidenced by the degree to which the tactics have been hidden. They probably fear a voter backlash but it will take a much better informed electorate to produce that, so the emphasis will continue to be on deflection, misinformation and outright lies.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fear,_uncertainty_and_doubt

    More and more we need journalists and the media to work hard and with integrity on our behalf. How can the public show support for quality reporting and disgust at low quality journalism to a sufficient degree that the overall culture changes? Is it even possible, given the ownership and funding sources of the media?

    Christchurch • Since Apr 2014 • 614 posts Report Reply

  • izogi, in reply to Angela Hart,

    The trouble is that the way things are works wonderfully well for those in power. Unless that changes, why should they fix it?

    How did we end up with some of the existing stuff, like the original OIA and the culture that followed before all these efforts to sidestep it, and the Bill of Rights Act, and MMP? (That's a genuine question.) All of those things have tended to reduce the influence of those in power, or at least contradict it.

    Does it take a strong opposition party to pick it up as a policy so much that they're obliged to implement it if elected?

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 1139 posts Report Reply

  • Angela Hart, in reply to izogi,

    How did we end up with some of the existing stuff, like the original OIA and the culture that followed before all these efforts to sidestep it, and the Bill of Rights Act, and MMP?

    I think we had politicians who were trying to make this a better place, and they had the power to do it. Unfortunately I don't think enough of the politicians currently holding power have the best interests of New Zealand uppermost.

    Christchurch • Since Apr 2014 • 614 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Barnes, in reply to Angela Hart,

    I think we had politicians who were trying to make this a better place,

    But the voters just wanted tax cuts and the supposed opportunity to get rich like John Key, suckers.

    Peria • Since Dec 2006 • 5521 posts Report Reply

  • Kumara Republic, in reply to Steve Barnes,

    The only reason for privatisation and this is what we see coming from National, is to give lucrative contracts to their supporters and companies that members have shares in, a corrupt practice if there ever was one. The ideology is one of greed and avarice.

    In Sir Joh’s Queensland, they were called the ‘white shoe brigade’.

    But the voters just wanted tax cuts and the supposed opportunity to get rich like John Key, suckers.

    You got to hand it to John Key for successfully making the 'temporarily embarrassed millionaires' in some of us tick, no matter how strong the mirage.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5419 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Kumara Republic,

    the 'temporarily embarrassed millionaires'

    Otara styles

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19686 posts Report Reply

  • Katharine Moody, in reply to izogi,

    allowing the Ombudsman to invoice agencies for investigations into their OIA handling would go a significant way towards addressing this.

    That's a very good suggestion - also noting that the Office investigates not only central but local government inquiries as well.

    Wellington • Since Sep 2014 • 798 posts Report Reply

  • Jack Harrison,

    Thank you David Fisher. Thank you Russell. Hard News and P.A are places of excellent civic and national debate. We should be proud of this place.

    wellington • Since Aug 2014 • 296 posts Report Reply

  • phplad, in reply to Jack Harrison,

    agreed - this problem is not peculiar to NZ though is it ?
    Is it not right throughout the world, a world driven by the wrong values ?
    This problem will not be fixed by libertarian heros, or moments of truth.
    Those hero's will be written off as conspiracy theorists and losers.
    The problem will actually be fixed by those who continue to ignore the issues and drive society unwittingly downwards to the point where it will suddenly awaken and demand better of its elected representatives and the systems that influence them, albeit however at the other end of a very long and damaging decline.

    The irony is the gutter journalists and apathetic public are probably doing more to expediate this process than we are. I very much hope that I'm completely wrong, but I don't think so.

    New Zealand • Since Aug 2014 • 17 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel, in reply to phplad,

    crisis, what crisis?

    The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.

    Dante Alighieri

    <from The Press's often apt Saturday 'Quote Unquote' column>

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7889 posts Report Reply

  • Marc C, in reply to phplad,

    It took centuries for humanity to finally come to grasp and accept, that the world is not "flat", it took thousands of years to grasp that the earth rotates around the sun, and not vice versa, and it has still not been achieved, to convince sufficient human beings, that they were not simply "created" from "clay", and "made" in six or seven days.

    I would not be hopeful at all, about the "humanity" we are facing, and having fundamentalists get so much support not only in the Middle East, but also still the "bible belt" in the US, that just proves to me, that hope is something few of us can have or even dare to "rely" on.

    Oh, "God bless America", and its "enemies".

    Akl • Since Oct 2012 • 437 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel, in reply to Marc C,

    the occidental two wrist...

    “bible belt”

    'the Middle Eats' crisis?

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7889 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to Carol Stewart,

    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.

    No it's not -- but I'm on the committee of a body that receives a fair amount of financial support from the ASB Community Trust and the Auckland City Council. They (quite properly) have pretty detailed audit requirements that are only fun for masochists with a paperwork fetish but that's the pro quo for the quids.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Craig Ranapia,

    that receives a fair amount of financial support from the ASB Community Trust

    excellent

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19686 posts Report Reply

  • nzlemming,

    As posted in the other thread, always good fun when they screw up the redaction

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 2930 posts Report Reply

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