The Green Party is needed in Government to clean up politics after repeated abuses of power by National, the Green Party said today.
A former high-ranking Customs lawyer, Curtis Gregorash, says he was told to bury information that could embarrass the Government. The Chief Ombudsman, Dame Beverley Wakem, will include this allegation and other concerns in a wide-ranging inquiry she will hold after the election. This inquiry will look at suppression of information in breach of the Official Information Act (OIA) and will include Ministerial offices.
"This is the third inquiry in the space of just a month into the alleged abuse of power by Ministers or their staff," Green Party Co-leader Dr Russel Norman said today.
"The Inspector General of Intelligence and Security is investigating John Key's staff over the selective use of the OIA, there is a Government Inquiry into the conduct of former Minister Judith Collins, and now the Chief Ombudsman is looking at Ministers' staff and selected government agencies over possible systematic abuse of the OIA.
"These high level investigations into actions of the National Government by parliamentary watchdogs reflect repeated abuses of power.
"It's incredibly serious for there to be three simultaneous investigations, and demonstrates again that National is unfit for government.
"Today's claims by a high ranking lawyer in the Customs Department are very concerning, and are similar to many of the concerns regarding abuses of power documented in Nicky Hager's Dirty Politics book.
"It's crucial for any democracy that that the public are able to trust that the Government of the day is transparent, open, and focused on what's best for New Zealand.
"It's impossible to govern in the interests of ordinary people if Ministers are enmeshed in dodgy political games, crony capitalism and spy scandals.
"These things runs counter to the workings of a good democracy.
"The Official Information Act was set up to protect our democracy and it's vital for clean, honest politics that this system is open and transparent and not abused by those in positions of power.
"The Green Party has been championing clean, honest politics in New Zealand for years.
Today we're announcing that in Government we will strengthen the OIA to ensure an open and accountable political system, including:
- Requiring all OIA and Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act (LGOIMA) request responses to be published on a designated website seven days after they have been sent to the requester. All information, excluding personal details of the requester, will be published unless it is not in the public interest to do so. This includes where privacy would be compromised.
- Increasing funding for the Office of the Ombudsman, ensuring the Ombudsman has the resources needed to respond to the increasing number of complaints it is receiving in a reasonable timeframe.
"It's vital that the political system is more open and accountable, and strengthening the OIA and the Office of the Ombudsman is central to this," said Dr Norman.
"We'll increase funding for the Office of the Ombudsman and require official information responses to be made publically available seven days after release.
"At the moment, OIA and LGOIMA responses are made public in an ad hoc way with some local councils and government agencies, for example, NZTA, proactively publishing responses after their release, but others don't. It also follows a similar system used by the UK Government.
"We need a more effective OIA and LGOIMA so that the public can access the information they want without lengthy delays or censorship."