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Speaker: Properly Public: It's our information

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  • BeehiveBubble,

    Another relevant blogpost on this subject, this time from the UK, discusses the 'ecology of transparency'. I'd prefer an 'ecology of openness' since it implies greater commitment to enabling citizen participation in governance, but in any case, it could be argued that NZ doesn't have a fully functioning 'ecology of openness' since the demise of the Information Authority in 1987 and the lack of any NGO that campaigns on this issue.

    The UK is worth keeping an eye on for another reason as their version of the OIA is up for review (as the OIA is here) and the Government is likely to push for a substantial hike in fees, plus an absolute exemption for Cabinet material (i.e. no test of whether disclosure would cause harm, and no test of whether the public interest in disclosure outweighs that in withholding).

    11th Floor • Since Feb 2012 • 1 posts Report Reply

  • merc,

    Why the tightening I wonder.

    Since Dec 2006 • 2468 posts Report Reply

  • nzlemming,

    From the Guardian

    The report says: "Most officials agreed that the same issues would have been discussed and the same decisions reached had the FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] not been in place."

    Well, that's actually a measure of success in your process of government, isn't it?

    What that article says to me is just the opposite: that the civil servants don't like the fact that the FOIA is looking over their shoulder as they work and they'd like it to go away, please.

    Making it more expensive would reduce its usage by Joe Public, not by journalists with a media organisation's credit card to back them up. And, when you consider the crap that Blair and co got away with, as well as Cameron's connections to Murdoch, I'm hardly surprised to see that Cabinet want to exclude themselves as they are the executive arm where the decisions are made (agencies only advise, remember) and that this type of legislation is designed to police.

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 1701 posts Report Reply

  • Andrew E, in reply to nzlemming,

    Making it more expensive would reduce its usage by Joe Public, not by journalists with a media organisation's credit card to back them up.

    I wouldn't be so sure about that Mark. The evidence from Ireland, where the government massively increased the fees for making requests in 2003 - and appealing refusals - led to a significant decrease in requests from all sources. Here's a bit from a press release from the Irish Information Commissioner:

    * overall usage of the Act has fallen by over 50% while requests for non-personal information has declined by 75%.

    * the media are now less likely to use the Act. Usage by journalists declined steadily throughout 2003. Between the first quarter of 2003 and the first quarter of 2004 the number of requests fell by 83% and still continues to decline.

    * other users of the Act, individuals and representative bodies, use the Act far less than before to access information on decisions that affect them directly or indirectly.

    * business requests to all bodies declined by 28% over the two years and fell by 53% between the first quarter of 2003 and the first quarter of 2004.

    With an NZ media that already operates largely on a 'churnalism' model of cutting and pasting press releases, or regurgitating what's been spun to them (aside from a few who do use the OIA intelligently), I'd be fairly cautious about Fairfax, APN or broadcast media organisations getting their credit cards out to pay for requests.

    Conversely, the low fee regime currently prevaily in the UK has resulted in a lot of use. One blog has just published 366 examples of disclosures resulting from requests made via the 'What Do They Know' tool.

    174.77 x 41.28 • Since Sep 2008 • 196 posts Report Reply

  • nzlemming, in reply to Andrew E,

    Good point about the churnalism and declination to pay. But I'm not convinced that increasing charges would be good for transparency.

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 1701 posts Report Reply

  • nzlemming, in reply to Andrew E,

    One blog has just published 366 examples of disclosures resulting from requests made via the ‘What Do They Know’ tool.

    Just glancing through that, a lot of those requests would be LGOIMA here. Lumping them all together looks expensive but the costs would actually be spread across multiple local bodies.

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 1701 posts Report Reply

  • Andrew E,

    [ETA:In reply to Mark's post before last...]

    No, absolutely not; nor am I. The reverse. I think increasing charges is the easiest resort of regimes that like to proclaim their love for transparency and openness, while at the same time lauding the principle of 'user pays' . Increasing fees for requests, or supply of information, is the easiest way to shut down open government, and then point to a supposed lack of public demand for the information as 'evidence' you were right to do this in the first place.

    The difficulty with FOI, as that Guardian piece indicates, is coming up with dollar indicators for the benefits of openness, as opposed to dollar indicators for the apparent costs.

    But in the long run, the costs of secrecy (e.g. sloppy policy making because you know nobody's going to be able to challenge you before the decision is taken, or hold you to account afterwards; or sloppy/corrupt procurement practices) are higher than the costs of openness.

    When the UK Cabinet Office (under Blair) tried to get FOI shut down a couple of years after it came into effect, they commissioned 'independent' research (from a company run by a former Cabinet Secretary, if I recall correctly) on the costs of FOI. They estimated it cost £35m per annum (pdf). There was just one problem with waving this red rag in front of the media bull: it was desperately easy to compare it with the annual budget for the Central Office of Information (Whitehall's publicity and advertising agency), which was approximately 10 times larger.

    174.77 x 41.28 • Since Sep 2008 • 196 posts Report Reply

  • DeepRed, in reply to nzlemming,

    Good point about the churnalism and declination to pay. But I’m not convinced that increasing charges would be good for transparency.

    I suspect it could also lead to an increase in involuntary leaks.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 3907 posts Report Reply

  • nzlemming, in reply to Andrew E,

    There was just one problem with waving this red rag in front of the media bull: it was desperately easy to compare it with the annual budget for the Central Office of Information (Whitehall’s publicity and advertising agency), which was approximately 10 times larger.

    Bwahaha. As the lawyers say, never ask a question if you don't already know the answer ;-)

    I'd be curious how NZ's first 7 years compare with the UK's, allowing for population differences. I wonder if there's any research on it anywhere?

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 1701 posts Report Reply

  • nzlemming, in reply to DeepRed,

    I suspect it could also lead to an increase in involuntary leaks.

    You could well be right. I do know a lot of honest public servants who are fed up with some of the actions the Government has made them take on ideological grounds, rather than evidence-based.

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 1701 posts Report Reply

  • Kiwiiano, in reply to John Holley,

    I just opened CERA in Safari and copied a page into TextEdit. Don't think it's locked very tightly, if at all.
    The scanned paper pdfs would just have to be interpreted by OCR software or just a regular human being retyping it. It's pathetic that they think scanned paper can't be copied.

    ChCh • Since Nov 2006 • 22 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Kiwiiano,

    It's pathetic that they think scanned paper can't be copied.

    what's pathetic is that they think being uncopyable is right

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 15741 posts Report Reply

  • nzlemming, in reply to Kiwiiano,

    I just opened CERA in Safari and copied a page into TextEdit

    There are always ways around anything, but should we *have* to find them?

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 1701 posts Report Reply

  • nzlemming,

    Speaking of accessibility, the Mojo Mathers saga is a classic case of government/public agencies not taking disability seriously.

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 1701 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to nzlemming,

    Speaking of accessibility, the Mojo Mathers saga is a classic case of government/public agencies not taking disability seriously.

    Oy. Lockwood Smith is right he can’t just pull at least $30K a year out of his arse, but that begs a more basic question. It was looking highly likely pretty early in the campaign a profoundly deaf MP would be part of the next Parliament. Where the hell was the forward planning?

    And while I esteem Smith more than a lot around here, I suspect, when he decides to be obtuse and intransigent he doesn’t stuff around. Insisting Mathers and The Greens pay for these “note-takers” out of their budget (as I understand it) basically wipes out her ability to have a PA and run an office.

    IIRC, when Parliament was refurbished in the 90s induction loops for hearing aids were installed in the Chamber and Gallery.- and were not funded though an effective user-pay levy on parties with hearing-impaired MPs. Nor should they have been – accessibility for hearing-impaired MPs and citizens is a feature not a bug.

    It’s this simple:

    Ms. Mathers is a legitimate and duly elected Member of the House of Representatives.

    Following the business of the House is a fundamental part of her job, It’s not bloody expensive organic free trade coffee for the kitchenette.

    Parliament could rouse itself to pass a retrospective amendment to the Electoral Act under extreme urgency to avoid a by-election. Smith getting David Shearer and Jerry Brownlee (the other two members of the Parliamentary Services Commission) in his office to resolve this should be a doddle.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 11617 posts Report Reply

  • Sofie Bribiesca, in reply to Craig Ranapia,

    And while I esteem Smith more than a lot around here, I suspect, when he decides to be obtuse and intransigent he doesn’t stuff around.

    Yes he can. I recall his "little hand " comment although not whilst being Speaker of the House
    Smith also noted (no pun intended) that a wheelchair bound MP would have Parliamentary Services paid adjustments to the Chamber and not require that parties budget. We should also have sign language for the hearing impaired and or English subtitles for Te Reo, Maori language on Parliament TV. These are our 3 languages for christs sake!

    here and there. • Since Nov 2007 • 5724 posts Report Reply

  • Sofie Bribiesca,

    here and there. • Since Nov 2007 • 5724 posts Report Reply

  • nzlemming, in reply to Sofie Bribiesca,

    Hadyn Green (@hadyngreen) tweeted something in a similar vein yesterday:

    After seeing what MPs were actually saying in the debates, Mojo Mathers has decided to not bother with the translation service.

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 1701 posts Report Reply

  • merc,

    Gerry could sign his replies with one finger.

    Since Dec 2006 • 2468 posts Report Reply

  • DeepRed, in reply to Craig Ranapia,

    Following the business of the House is a fundamental part of her job, It’s not bloody expensive organic free trade coffee for the kitchenette.

    The Human Rights Act might actually come into play too. Another one for Graeme to check up.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 3907 posts Report Reply

  • DeepRed, in reply to nzlemming,

    You could well be right. I do know a lot of honest public servants who are fed up with some of the actions the Government has made them take on ideological grounds, rather than evidence-based.

    Speaking of leaks, Anonymous has set up shop in NZ. It's on now.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 3907 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to DeepRed,

    The Human Rights Act might actually come into play too

    (put this response on wrong thread):

    For sure. But everyone would rather get on with the job than waste time on that, I'm sure.

    The core issue as I see it is Lockwood's misunderstanding: it is actually Parliament's accessibility that's being supported, not Mojo's. So it's not a matter of personal support funding.

    The inconsistency over his stated approach to wheelchair-users should make that obvious even to someone clearly wedded to old thinking like him. And it shows more than ever the crying need for a competent education programme for everyone including our politicians.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 15741 posts Report Reply

  • B Jones, in reply to jungle pickle,

    Joe advisor is left to take care of it and is probably using Word to prepare the BIM and only knows how to "Save as PDF". Or in many cases, print the sucker then rescan it to get a PDF.

    This, a thousand times, this! Hell, it's a good day when someone knows how to save something as a pdf. More often than not, people print, scan and file so that the document has a signature on it. Goodness knows what sort of an electronic legacy this will leave, but

    we end up with a growing mountain of paper and inaccessible documents.

    sounds about right. It's worth noting that these documents, even when they're only internal, are invisible to the kind of electronic file searches public servants do when they're answering a big OIA. If they're also filed in Admin or Miscellaneous with a name like report.doc, they'll never be seen again.

    Jo Advisors who do this work don't know any better, aren't trained because their managers also don't know any better and admin functions aren't staffed sufficiently to look after this.

    Izogi:

    You can produce all the templates you like and provide standard filing mechanisms to keep the info in good order (very important for OIA responsibilities), but then it's necessary to convince people and managers, throughout an entire organisation, to use them instead of taking shortcuts that might make immediate tasks easier for themselves, and to file them properly.

    Absolutely. Back office functions have front office implications. Technology has to be used to be useful.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 724 posts Report Reply

  • papango, in reply to nzlemming,

    Good point about the churnalism and declination to pay. But I'm not convinced that increasing charges would be good for transparency.

    It absolutley wouldn't. A lot of OIAs are made by students and the interested public. That is, not by jounalists or people with a professional interest, but just by New Zealanders who want to know. Some of them don't even know they're using the Act, they just ring or write in wanting to know things. I think fees would dissuade people from asking and that would not be good.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2012 • 15 posts Report Reply

  • papango, in reply to B Jones,

    It's worth noting that these documents, even when they're only internal, are invisible to the kind of electronic file searches public servants do when they're answering a big OIA. If they're also filed in Admin or Miscellaneous with a name like report.doc, they'll never be seen again.

    This is pretty much the reasoning behind the introduction of the regular (every organisation, every five to ten years) audits of complaince with the Public Records Act being undertaken by Archives NZ. This was announced in 2007 and I believe the audits are starting this year. And you wouldn't believe the wailing and gnashing of teeth that took place after people were told to get their filing in order ('you may take our lives, but you'll never take our 'Other Issues - Misc.' folder'). Often from the same people who show up at my desk weeping tears of gratitude that we can locate a copy of something they 'filed' six months ago.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2012 • 15 posts Report Reply

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