Legal Beagle by Graeme Edgeler

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Legal Beagle: Questions, but no answers, with thanks to David Simon for opening my eyes

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  • linger,

    While the explicit content of some meetings, or some briefings may be properly [ sic : word missing], the existence of the meetings themselves will not,

    I appreciate the self-referentiality of (presumably) the word “redacted” being redacted here, but I suspect it wasn’t intentional?

    The use of exactly the same stock boilerplate non-response by several different ministers strongly suggests a coordinated strategy of obfuscation. It may well be that these individuals actually have had no relevant meetings as yet and don't wish to admit that fact; but you're right, it's information that should be made public.

    Tokyo • Since Apr 2007 • 1764 posts Report Reply

  • Tom Semmens,

    After nine long years of insufferably arrogant and unaccountable National party rule, I don't give a shit about their whining about getting a dose of their own medicine.

    Sevilla, Espana • Since Nov 2006 • 2152 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler, in reply to linger,

    I appreciate the self-referentiality of (presumably) the word “redacted” being redacted here, but I suspect it wasn’t intentional?

    Withheld. Thanks :-)

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 3188 posts Report Reply

  • Moz,

    I wonder whether that reply is actually a copy of one they received whilst in opposition.

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1038 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    This is not a war.

    These are not children.

    Reprisal is not a valid form of government.

    I get that our governmental system has developed a culture largely based on behaviours acceptable to lawyers and 18th century aristocrats. But such a culture does no good to anyone.

    They are there to do a job. They need to stop behaving like five year-olds or lawyers and actually do the job*.

    And yes that criticism applies to all of them.

    *And yes I know lots of five year-olds with better behaviour.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4374 posts Report Reply

  • linger, in reply to Moz,

    I can’t immediately find an example of exactly the same answer being used by National. So the boilerplate responses may be more simply a tit-for-tat strategy to cope with (perceived) boilerplate questions. I can see some point to that, in that providing actual answers takes considerably longer than copy-pasting text of one question into hundreds of questions, and the government seems, on that basis, to have decided that National is merely time-wasting. (Bridges actually admits as much when he says it’s at least partly about “testing the government”.) But the government is still wrong not to attempt to provide good-faith answers: we deserve better than to have both the opposition and the government acting like dicks.

    Tokyo • Since Apr 2007 • 1764 posts Report Reply

  • matthew,

    Whether or not they have a right to information and whether or not the information should or shouldn't be public in the first place, this is extremely petty behaviour from the National party. Makes them look like sore losers with nothing better to do than play games. In particular given that in the last 9 years they have been extremely cavalier in their responses to OIA requests.

    auckland • Since Nov 2013 • 22 posts Report Reply

  • Tony Meyer, in reply to matthew,

    this is extremely petty behaviour from the National party.

    What exactly would have been the right response? The Government doesn't automatically provide the information, and the small volume, broad, questions were denied. Other than the (petty looking) barrage of high volume, specific, questions, how could they get the information? Are you saying that the opposition should simply accept that the Government can deny this information to them in this way?

    The Government had (maybe still has) an opportunity to one-up National by simply making all the information available in the way that Graeme suggests. I assume that there's some sort of system available like in an OIA where you can refuse to answer because the information is publicly available. This could have good spin, even: "Government handles more than 6000 opposition questions in a month through increased efficiency and transparency".

    By the way, in a piece that is otherwise quite wrong, Ben Thomas at The Spinoff points out that Mallard asked nearly 3k questions the week before Christmas, 6 year ago.

    National did poorly in openness a lot of the time over the last decade. This new government should be showing us how much better they are, not that they are worse (or at best, equally as bad). This is an area where I would hope that the Green and younger elements of the Government could have some positive influence over the rest.

    Ahuroa • Since Jul 2012 • 11 posts Report Reply

  • WH,

    I'm unfamiliar with the rules that govern parliamentary procedure but would have thought that asking 6,000 odd questions is something akin to the common law concept of abuse of process.

    The manoeuvre seems intended to tie up resources that would otherwise be used to enact the new Government's agenda.

    Since Nov 2006 • 727 posts Report Reply

  • matthew, in reply to Tony Meyer,

    Are the National Party doing this because they believe that either they or the public have a right to a better quality of information about what the Government is doing, I don't believe so. Do they think they will get better quality of information by doing so, again I don't believe so. Its quite clear they are simply being obstructive.

    I'm fairly passionate about politics in general and I do believe that better quality (not necessarily quantity) of information about the workings of government would be a good thing. On the other hand I know of many people who are generally turned off by politics and politicians in general who explain their position by saying they are all as bad as each other and a waste of space in general. Today I find it hard to argue against that position.

    auckland • Since Nov 2013 • 22 posts Report Reply

  • Katharine Moody,

    Clare Curran has recently been appointed Minister for Open Government. She should take the opportunity to propose to Cabinet the automatic release of ministerial schedules.

    Although the sentiment regarding open governance is right - the practical application is fraught with exceptions. Diarised medical appointments, meetings with ones personal lawyers over say, a property transaction, etc. etc. Then you also get members of the public/businesses seeking an appointment with the Minister who want that appointment, if granted, to remain confidential. And then there are other commercially sensitive meetings for those Ministers with SOE and/or quangos within their portfolios.

    My experience would suggest that around 30% of a Minister's diarised appointments might be reasonably withheld under the OIA - so I imagine if you amended the Cabinet Manual with respect to the automatic release of Ministerial diaries, one would need to apply OIA standards prior to release. And then, a Minister with a great deal of withheld timeslots ends up coming under suspicion - when in fact they might be having routine cancer treatment.

    Palmerston North • Since Sep 2014 • 764 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler, in reply to Katharine Moody,

    Although the sentiment regarding open governance is right – the practical application is fraught with exceptions. Diarised medical appointments, meetings with ones personal lawyers over say, a property transaction, etc. etc.

    Medical appointments are not ministerial.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 3188 posts Report Reply

  • mark taslov, in reply to WH,

    abuse

    in case it's not already been posted

    In July 2010 Labour asked 8791 questions in a single month.

    More than 7000 of those questions came from MP Trevor Mallard alone.

    Te Ika-a-Māui • Since Mar 2008 • 2136 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel, in reply to WH,

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7565 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel,

    Attachment

    I'm sure Mallard and some of National's old school will have their battered copies of Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals on hand (it's always interesting seeing what books they have on their office shelves)....
    Sounds like they are using rules #4 ("Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.") & #10 ("The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition.")

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7565 posts Report Reply

  • Katharine Moody, in reply to Graeme Edgeler,

    Medical appointments are not ministerial.

    I agree. But if you require the diaries of Ministers' ministerial appointments to be automatically provided - what you'll get is a daily account of time with gaps and redactions everywhere - and then the gaps/redactions will become the subject of speculation/criticism.

    Here's some examples of how National dealt with the same type of questioning from WP in the last term;

    Hon Judith Collins (Minister of Police (Includes responsibility for Serious Fraud Office)) replied: As Minister of Police I have a large number of meetings in Wellington and around New Zealand. I do not believe it is a good use of staff time to itemise my meetings or engagements, nor attempt to list the names of every person I met over the course of a month. If the member is interested in a specific issue or organisations then I might be able to provide more detailed information.

    Hon Simon Bridges (Associate Minister of Justice) replied: I hold or attend a large number of meetings, visits, events, and speaking engagements – both formal and informal – each month in my capacity as Minister. I am not prepared to ask my staff to bring together this information, including withholding any confidential or private information, in order to answer to such a broad question. If the Member wishes to narrow his question, I am happy to reconsider.

    Hon Paula Bennett (Associate Minister of Finance) replied: In September 2016, as part of my ministerial work I have had a number of meetings, however it would take considerable staff time to search diary records and I do not think this is a good use of staff time.

    Hon Paula Bennett (Associate Minister of Tourism) replied: As the Member may appreciate, I meet with a large number of groups and individuals during my normal course of business, so this information cannot be gathered without substantial collation or resource. I am not prepared to have my staff spend the time and resources that would be required to answer it.

    Hon Bill English (Minister of Finance) replied: As Minister of Finance I have a large number of meetings in Wellington and around New Zealand. I do not believe it is a good use of staff time to itemise my meetings or engagements, nor attempt to list the names of every person I met over the course of a month. If the member is interested in a specific issue or organisations then I might be able to provide more detailed information.

    Hon Steven Joyce (Minister for Economic Development) replied: I hold a large number of meetings both formally and informally each month with a wide range of people and discuss a wide range of topics. I do not consider it reasonable use of official’s time to provide the Member with a comprehensive list of all such meetings, nor is it feasible as the information requested is often not specifically captured by my records. If the Member could be more specific about a particular area of interest I would be happy to consider his request.

    Hon Maggie Barry (Minister for Seniors) replied: I meet with a range of individuals and groups and I do not believe it is a good use of staff time to itemise my meetings or engagements. If the member is interested in a specific issue or organisation, I may be able to provide more detailed information.

    Rt Hon John Key (Prime Minister) replied: As Prime Minister I have a large number of meetings in Wellington and around New Zealand. In September I also attended the East Asia Summit, the Pacific Islands Forum and attended the UNGA and UN Security Council meeting in New York. I do not believe it is a good use of staff time to itemise my meetings or engagements, not attempt to list the names of every person I met over the course of a month. If the member is interested in a specific issue or organisations then I might be able to provide more detailed information.

    Hon Jo Goodhew (Associate Minister for Primary Industries) replied: As Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector I have a large number of meetings in Wellington and around New Zealand. In September I also attended the Social Enterprise World Forum in Hong Kong. I do not believe it is a good use of staff time to itemise my meetings or engagements, nor attempt to list the names of every person I met over the course of a month. If the member is interested in a specific issue or organisations then I might be able to provide more detailed information.

    Palmerston North • Since Sep 2014 • 764 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Moz,

    I wonder whether that reply is actually a copy of one they received whilst in opposition.

    looks like it :)

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19428 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler, in reply to Katharine Moody,

    Here’s some examples of how National dealt with the same type of questioning from WP in the last term

    And if Labour had objected, there's a good chance I'd have written a blog post supporting them.

    I can't fix what happened in past Parliaments, but I can try to make sure it doesn't happen again!

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 3188 posts Report Reply

  • Sam M,

    I'm sure you're technically right, but I am still firmly enjoying the honeymoon period with a Labour led government and am not yet ready to give them a hard time about the way they stoush with National. Especially while they are still sorting out their offices and ministries.

    Plus, National are d&$ks.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 72 posts Report Reply

  • linger,

    (Thanks, Katherine!)

    looks like it :)

    Indeed – most closely from Bridges himself, that naughty boy…
    … but still, they shouldn’t be lowering themselves to his level of testiness/testeeness/testeness.

    [Note that the current government used a broader-scope “narrow the question” nonreply, rather than the narrower-scope “focus on a specific issue or organisation” nonreply used by several of the National members when in power; this is what allowed National to move in the direction of asking for larger numbers of narrower time ranges and thus further ramping up the spam war. The lesson here is that it really doesn’t become the current government to try to respond like National; they’re not as skilled at being pricks.]

    Tokyo • Since Apr 2007 • 1764 posts Report Reply

  • Katharine Moody, in reply to Graeme Edgeler,

    Yes, I appreciate that is your perspective, Graeme but I think the form/volume of these 'fishing' questions (be they put by whatever person from whatever party in whatever term past or present) are what is unreasonable. Questions put need to be on matters of substance for the inquiry to be genuine. I think it's fair enough that if you ask a vague/obscure question - you get a vague/obscure answer.

    If fishing for something specific based on a certain whisper or suspicion - rather than ask, 'what appointments did the Minister have between 8-9 am or 9-10 am on a particular day'... better to ask whether there has been a meeting with a particular individual and/or organisation within the last 1-2 weeks.

    I think that's the point the National ministerial responses are making above and those made by the new government Minister's more recently.

    Palmerston North • Since Sep 2014 • 764 posts Report Reply

  • Raymond A Francis, in reply to Tom Semmens,

    Of course you don’t Tom but let’s not forget that you called for utu against any journalist who didn’t report the news as you saw it a couple of elections back.
    There is a word for that!
    And one for people who don’t see the hypocrisy of their own statements.

    45' South • Since Nov 2006 • 574 posts Report Reply

  • simon g,

    There's a pretty fundamental difference between Labour playing silly buggers in opposition and National doing the same now. Labour attacked the government on its performance, not its existence. The legitimacy of the 2008-17 National-led government was not in question. Not even by the most blinkered Labour hack.

    But the narrative being driven by National is not about how the government performs, but how it was formed. And it is only being driven by National MPs, not by the public at all. Quick recap: Protest marches: nil. Public meetings: nil. Petitions: nil. Lawsuits: nil. Boycotts: nil. I could go on, but there's nothing to go on about, is there?

    So all this is basically about National trying to create a narrative out of thin air. It's not the odd renegade backbencher, it's senior MPs like Nick Smith, who has publicly stated that National won the election. And that is far more serious and potentially damaging than MPs playing games in Parliament. If you believe (as they probably don't, but cynically pretend to) that democracy has not delivered, then faith in the democratic process is eroded. That may seem far-fetched, but it is no more so than apparently sane people claiming the Electoral Commission was biased before the election. Which, you know, happened.

    They need to be bloody careful. Fan the flames of a Dolchstosslegende and you may face unforeseen - and unwanted - consequences.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 1216 posts Report Reply

  • WH, in reply to Ian Dalziel,

    It all seems so unnecessary. It's been a month and the Opposition's strategery is already getting out of control. Let us all take a moment to think about the fate of the lockbox. Perhaps each of us could offer a short prayer.

    8791 questions in a single month... More than 7000 of those questions came from MP Trevor Mallard alone.

    I don't see how that serves a worthwhile purpose. Colour me opposed.

    Since Nov 2006 • 727 posts Report Reply

  • David Clemens,

    Clare Curran has recently been appointed Minister for Open Government. She should take the opportunity to propose to Cabinet the automatic release of ministerial schedules

    As Open Government Minister Curran may need to look no further than her own hood for freedom of information inspiration, at Dunedin City Council.
    http://www.dunedin.govt.nz/your-council/official-information/lgoima-requests
    Maybe it's time we simply 'go large' on the OIA and introduce a more progressive and proactive 'release to one release to all' policy?

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2017 • 1 posts Report Reply

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