Leader of the Opposition says it's 'unacceptable' for PM to keep a document that supposedly reveals how the Government will behave, deal with the media and be held accountable, under wraps

Leader of the Opposition says it's 'unacceptable' for PM to keep a document that supposedly reveals how the Government will behave, deal with the media and be held accountable, under wraps
Cartoon by Jacky Carpenter

The Opposition is lashing out at the Government for its “lack of transparency”, as it refuses to release details of its coalition agreement.

Newsroom journalist Sam Sachdeva reports that the day after Labour and New Zealand First signed an eight-page public coalition agreement on October 24, the New Zealand First leader Winston Peters told media about a 38-page document “of precision on various areas of policy commitment and development”.

Peters said the document included media strategies, directives to ministers and the appointment process for diplomats.

While it was still being finalised at the time, he said it would be made public, noting it was “for the province of the Prime Minister to release”.

Yet Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s office has refused to release the document following an Official Information Act request from the Newsroom website.

Ardern’s adviser Heather Simpson (who was Helen Clark's top adviser) reportedly says “the Prime Minister does not hold any such information”.

Newsroom reports the letter refers to Section 2 of the Act, which says official information only covers information held by “a Minister of the Crown in his official capacity”.

However the Ombudsman’s OIA guidelines for ministers say that while official information does not include information held by a minster in their role as a member of a political party, “such information may become official information if it is subsequently used for official ministerial purposes”.

Newsroom has appealed the Government’s decision to the Ombudsman.

National Party leader Bill English has responded to the situation saying: “The document, confirmed by Winston Peters, goes to the very heart of the formation of the new Government.

“It is unacceptable for the Prime Minister to claim it’s not public information. It is and the public deserves to know how the new Coalition, and therefore the country, will be run.

“This is not the openness and accountability promised by Jacinda Ardern and Winston Peters and enshrined in the public version of their Coalition agreement…

“This lack of transparency is becoming a habit for this Government.”

English also accuses the Government of “refusing to answer even the most basic questions in Parliament as well as written questions from Opposition MPs and queries from the media”.

Newshub reports the Opposition has asked the Government nearly 6300 questions in writing over the past month - most of which relate to what events or meetings a minister had attended on a particular date.

Labour Leader of the House Chris Hipkins says the Opposition has its priorities wrong and is spamming the Government.

Yet English says Government is simply “disorganised and secretive”.

We welcome your help to improve our coverage of this issue. Any examples or experiences to relate? Any links to other news, data or research to shed more light on this? Any insight or views on what might happen next or what should happen next? Any errors to correct?

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40 Comments

Obviously Comrade Cinder has something to hide!

If the private citizen of NZ is to have freedom and liberty then all agreements must be released. NZ cannot have a secret public system as it breaches all facets of our constitutiional arrangement.

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Yes.
And the National Government was sooo transparent, wasn't it.

You are sooo living in the past nymad.

We were promised open and transparent govt, weren't we?

I agree. That's what we were promised.

I'm just sayin', though...
It's just as valid to accuse the accusers of exactly the same thing.

Also, are you unhappy about the promise breaking (let's face it, I don't think you can call it that after only a month or so in office) or the lack of transparency?

It's essential to lead by example; Bill English must reveal what he offered Winston. Then Arden has no excuse to not announce it. Of course that will never happen because there would be a lot of people shocked at what was offered.

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Bill English should also reveal why taxpayer money was handed out to a private citizen (Glenys Dickson) by National if no covert recordings took place.

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The love triangle payout? I'm sure Bill wants to get into all the juicy details that he lied to the Police about. Seeing as it was so important to be txting at 2am.

Maybe Bill offered his soul
Winston laughed & told him it was worthless

Dear Bill English
You never revealed you did not require accommodation allowance
You claimed that allowance anyway and ultimately you were caught

Dear Bill English
National told NZers “No New Taxes”
Then added a new tax to petrol
Then increased existing tax GST up to 15%
Transparency is not National

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Labour asked 8,791 questions in one month in July 2010, so are the record holders. If they are complaining they may want to take a good hard look at themselves in the mirror. Labour is being furtive and evasive about their dealings, refusing to respond to normal opposition questions regarding who they are meeting and doing deals with hence the current paper war. Too much to hope for normal standards of transparency and straight dealing from the new Govt?

They are also refusing to release the civil service prepared briefings for incoming ministers, this is a matter of public record and have always been available through the OIA process, but the govt are stonewalling the process. It appears that their policy is to deny the public access to information as much as possible. Again failing a basic test of openness and transparency.

We certainly need to restore democracy after National have been in power. It's concerned that this is the case.

Labour asked 8,791 questions in one month in July 2010, so are the record holders. If they are complaining they may want to take a good hard look at themselves in the mirror.

Correct, they've both on occasion behaved like stupid muppets and should stop doing so.

Labour is being furtive and evasive about their dealings, refusing to respond to normal opposition questions regarding who they are meeting and doing deals with hence the current paper war. Too much to hope for normal standards of transparency and straight dealing from the new Govt?

I'd say this is most likely quite incorrect, on the other hand.

You see, National is claiming that "The volume of questions is purely being driven by Ministers and their offices refusing to answer more generalised questions, such as something along the lines of ‘Who has the Minister met with with since being sworn in?’

However, they themselves previously maintained that this very question is wholly unreasonable. In October 2016, Winston Peters asked a range of Ministers a similar question to what National are now asking Labour:

What is the list of people and organisations, if any, with whom the Minister has held meetings in September 2016; for each person/organisation listed, where was the meeting or meetings held and what were the topics of discussion?

National found this question not worthy of their time:

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.

So, National are being a bit immature and disingenuous right now. If they think Labour is being furtive and if they're releasing talking points along these lines to their disciples, they shouldn't have set the precedent for this approach themselves.

Perhaps what it does suggest is the need for a very transparent system that simply exposes this record for all MPs and makes it part of information accessible by all. This might preclude such improper meetings as Judith Collins' completely coincidental - honest - cup of tea on the way to the airport, too, which would be agreeable to NZers who believe in the separation of personal business and political power.

I'm in favour of more open records and indeed politicians who don't deliberately seek to circumvent our transparency laws, as John Key admitted to breaking OIA laws: http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/political/274130/oia-needs-to-be-taken-mor...

Secrets are not the problem it is the obvious bullying on Landlords that has created a Rental Shortage Crisis in New Zealand and it is time to break the cycle!

Landlords contribute billions of dollars to house Tenant families in New Zealand and the Taxpayer receives this for free!

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I've fixed your post for the purpose of accuracy.

"Secrets are not the problem it is the obvious bullying by Landlords that has created a Rental Shortage Crisis in New Zealand and it is time to break the cycle!
Taxpayers contribute billions of dollars to house Tenant families in New Zealand and Landlords receive this for free!

Agreed this is how the future will be as the taxpayer will contribute billions of dollars to house Tenanant families as Landlords are forced out.

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Is the prospect of having to work for a living that scares you?

Is this relevant? It's not like there's a shortage of threads talking about property.

The time is right to establish a new political party in NZ that covers both sides of the spectrum.
It should be called the Hypocrite Party.

Do really hope this is not a sign of Labour reverting to the old hat secretive & sour style of government that HC managed. That was part of their downfall. To give him credit JK modernised National & stepped them clear of all the old petty personal stuff. Had thought JA would see that and act accordingly. Young & fresh, that’s a good healthy part of her image. Just hope HC has not assumed the role of agony aunt.

With H2 Heather Simpson (Clark's chief of staff from PM and UN days) back as chief of staff for Ardern, it is unsurprising to see them reverting to bad old habits.

everting to the old hat secretive & sour style of government that HC managed. That was part of their downfall. To give him credit JK modernised National & stepped them clear of all the old petty personal stuff.

Is this in some parallel universe where John Key and Cam Slater weren't buddies, and Cam, Carrick Graham et al weren't engaging in behind the scenes dirty politics at the bidding of Key and Collins?

And is it the same parallel universe where John Key was not breaking the OIA laws (according to the Ombudsman)?

"I mean, for a prime minister to say that, and openly really admitting to breaking the law without consideration - and I'm sure the impact of what he said and how he said it might not have occurred to him at the time, but I'm sure he's had leisure to think about - it's certainly an issue that I'll be taking up. I mean, that is about leadership."

Because...yeah...this universe doesn't sound like the last nine years in NZ. Have a read of the book Complacent Nation if you'd like to see more about how bad things got with regard to the Official Information Act and avoidance of it.

Look I am no JK fan, far from it. But the election that he first won, he was clever enough to rise above the old style politics that Clark & Cullen had sunk Labour back to. Mission to Melbourne to dig up Merrill Lynch?? dirt on Key rather than just fighting an election on Labour’s performance & failing poularity. Nine years later National just as damn bad and that includes all the rotten escapades and more, that you refer to. Personally I see little is achieved in saying one apple is less rotten than the other or vice versa. All I am saying, perhaps not clearly enough for those it would seem, like you that cannot be anything other than partisan, is that I hope JA is above all that crap and stays that way, ie just governs the country without having to resort to bagging and banging on about the opposition. For heavens sake those of us that remember, Muldoon and his foul destructive politics almost destroyed the very substance & soul of our country. Lange and his at times brilliant government shone a new light. JA you can do the same, you don’t need to go back or even look back at the past old gutter sniping performances, that’s why your people voted for you. Just let your government do the job and speak for itself.

And BTW, I know first hand and painfully, all about Key’s government breaking the law. Ask anybody down here in Canterburysuffering under the punitive and illegal actions of EQC for the last seven years and still counting.!!!

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FG that is unmitigated BS. Question time under JK was a complete joke with the MO being to attack the questioner and with the complete acquiescence of the speaker.

If the billshitter was as tough with Toddy and his lies as he is trying to be now he might still be PM instead of a two time loser......

New Zealand needs a new political party to support Tenants and their families and acknowledge Landlords who support and contribute billions of dollars to house the community to the benefit of the taxpayer.

Bob, you need a new keyboard (or a thesaurus).
"New Zealand needs a new political party to support Tenants and their families and acknowledge Taxpayers who support and contribute billions of dollars to house the community to the benefit of Landlords."

reply

Ted Stanton, you need to calm down with your landlords are giving billions to NZ out of the goodness of their own hearts schtick. Bit too repetitive.

The landlords are in a business and receive rent from tenants. There are good and bad Landlords and Tenants as we all know.

The positive side is that they are saving the taxpayers of New Zealand billions of dollars to house these families.

The media has repetitively everyday been negative towards Landlords and political parties have gained traction to continue with this easy target unfairly without balanced reporting.

The positive side is that they are saving the taxpayers of New Zealand billions of dollars to house these families.

Indeed, just like the supermarkets are saving we taxpayers billions by feeding "these families" unable to grow their own food.

We've got one but unfortunately for you the majority of people voted for someone else

Edited to ensure context. "New Zealand needs a new political party to support Tenants and their families and acknowledge Landlords who support and contribute billions of dollars to house the community to the benefit of the taxpayer." We could call it the Nottingham Sheriff's party or perhaps the King John party.

The apologists for Ardern's secretive withholding of information that we citizens have a right to, erroneously believe that referring back to the alleged misdemeanours of previous governments somehow justifies this blatant concealment. For the record, she is the one who campaigned on transparency and honesty. And is now failing to keep to her word.

National doesn't have the moral high ground, and they wouldn't reveal the details of any deal with Winston either. This is just to shift the focus from the opaque operations of the previous Government. They are desperately grasping at every bit of misdirection.

You are an apologist for all the secrets that National has been keeping. It's a moot point.

Wasn't aware of any defence of alleged National secretiveness in my comment, please enlighten.

My proposition is that any politician who makes holier than thou sanctimonious undertakings that imply a higher standard than has hitherto been exhibited, had better deliver on that promise. Which Ardern fails to do.

That's a standard that every National Party MP fails to meet. As I said they don't have a higher moral ground. This is nothing more than noise from National while they struggle to appear relevant.

That's a fair comment MM but lets wait a while to judge JA.
Ardern has done a lot right so far in her short term, a lot that National tried to say could not be done but she also needs to remember her ideals which a lot of past PMs from both sides have found difficult. The most recent for example - allegedly a devout Christian, was found to be sadly lacking in principles of any kind when it all got a bit hard. His immediate predecessor was even worse - the moment a PM starts
saying on important points "I can't remember" you know they have surrended any high ground.

At this stage this looks more like a drummed-up talking point than an actual lack of transparency, to me. Looks like National are stretching and grasping for anything they can and their votaries are leaping to grab their talking points, as hoped.

As National noted repeatedly, it's probably an impractical use of staff time to assemble a summary or every person met, talked to, etc. and any subjects, rather than there being a deliberate effort to deny information. Labour have suggested the same as National - "bit more specific questions, please".

However, after National's resistance to and law-breaking of the OIA while in power, I would personally be in favour of some consideration of MPs having minimum reporting standards re all parties met with. I guess we'd see a massive spike in redaction for "national security" purposes, however. But it's a topic worth looking at.

It shouldn't be the norm that citizens private communications are transparent to the government, while the government gets away with denying and obfuscating to prevent transparency. This should be anathema to us all.

Lol so any complaint against labour must be met with an equal complaint against national ,
So fucked up

Funny how the Nats are griping about a whole lot of nothing just when this appears
https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/99257012/rail-has-saved-new-ze...
It's been around for a year, but must have somehow or other got stuck down the back of the couch or something and no-one could find it till now, when a big change round and a bit of spring cleaning was done.