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?
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.
if you make a polite enquiry and a public servant fobs you off, ask them if that is their final response
I know it doesn’t always work, especially with many of the situations described here, but if I just want something uncontroversial then I tend to just ask politely before anything else, and with no specific reference to the OIA. Often it’ll be back within a day or two of an email being flicked from the front desk info services of an agency around the most appropriate staff, without anyone even having considered putting it into a formal OIA workflow process and all-but-making-sure that I won’t see a response for 4 weeks as it sits in middle managers’ in-trays for a week at a time waiting for their signatures between other work. As others have noted the Act doesn’t state that a request has to explicitly state it’s under the OIA, so the clock still began when my initial request went in, and that date can still be applied with the rest of the OIA if they don’t seem to be playing nicely for who-knows-what reason.
Given how intent some NZ agencies seem to be on crippling the process in recent years, I’m surprised we haven’t yet seen more implementation of the OIA’s S15 provisions, to allow charging for processing requests, as an informal deterrent. eg. In Australia (which apparently does also seem to require explicit requesting under their FOI Act for them to care about responding) I found Parks Victoria’s non-refundable $26.50 fee for submitting any Freedom of Information request, plus a possible further $19.90/hour of time for searching their documents, to be a depressingly effective deterrent to actually asking them for information. It’s probably mostly only a deterrent against poor people, though. Be wary of that type of thing appearing on the horizon in NZ. Given the rules that are already being bent or outright broken, I bet it could be seen as a possible tactic to put off some bloggers who might be seen as a “threat”.
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.
A lot of this would go away if agencies published everything unless there was a good reason not to.
Isolating the Ombudsman so that its line of funding can't be directly influenced by Parliament also wouldn't go astray, and neither would financially cutting into agencies' budgets when their actions result in Ombudsmans' involvement.
Giving the Ombudsman a base amount of funding for overheads, then letting it invoice agencies for its investigations of them, would accomplish both of these. The Ombudsman gets the cash it actually needs to properly investigate the complaints it receives, and agencies have an incentive to avoid encouraging complaints.
Some agencies would obviously need to budget for expected Ombudsmans' complaints as part of whichever controversial projects they're working on, but one way or another the CEO will need to be accountable to their Minister and to Treasury (and the public once the budget comes out) as to why they need that money. The alternative is to simply adhere to the OIA properly in the first place.
Parliament had a chance to debate and tinker with this concept in 2012, but National laughed Shane Jones' Bill out of the house at its first reading, then proceeded to dismally underfund the Ombudsman for its actual workload.
No I don’t but I have noticed some in the Green community feel that way.
I, for one, appreciate that the Green Party actually have relatively detailed policies across a wide spectrum of issues.
One of the main reasons I had doubt with even considering the Internet Party during all its hype is that I had trouble figuring out where it would be likely to sit on probably 80%+ of the issues which pass through parliament. To be fair they did get some more detail out as the election approached.
I've just watched the PM interviewed on TVNZ's Breakfast. Rawdon Christie might as well have had his script of questions provided by the PM's office, except that I know he doesn't need that to produce this type of interview.
Anyway, John Key (after saying "all those academics haven't seen the information that I've seen") actually did refer to the "some people say the Terrorism Suppression Act is enough" line. He wrote it off as saying "that's not our reading of it".
It’d be interesting to know the legal opinion on what happened.
Here's some more info. This might be more like an employment dispute than a direct relationship to the Slater stuff.
Interesting legal judgement re data ‘theft’ here:
Wow. An initial 30 months imprisonment for downloading data from an employer seems like a lot, but that’s also without knowing context. From this earlier report, it sounds like some of the context was that he (allegedly) downloaded a massive amount of data from his employer immediately before going to work for a competitor. Plus we’re talking about oil companies, supposedly with hundreds of millions of dollars at stake and likely endless cash to throw at lawyers, so maybe there was more going on.
It’d be interesting to know the legal opinion on what happened. Browsing s249 of the Crimes Act I see it refers to obtaining “property” by accessing a computer, even though the Act’s own definition of property doesn’t clearly seem to include anything intellectual. If that’s what he was initially prosecuted for obtaining ‘property’ then maybe that’s how it doesn’t fit, and also perhaps the fact that he was an employee at the time he supposedly took the data also complicates things. S249 also seems to include a list of other stuff you could dishonestly obtain with a computer besides ‘property’. That’s all just my own layman’s interpretation, though.
I'll never look at Hell Pizzas the same way again.