Paul Little at large
Paul Little is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Paul Little: Open a window into democracy


The Minister of Justice, Judith Collins, feels we know enough about what goes on in Parliament without opening new windows into its murky recesses.

Many of us probably agree, feeling we already know more than anyone should have to about the place. But this is a matter of democratic principles, not boredom thresholds.

Collins has rejected several suggestions that would have made more information about the workings of Parliament available, mainly under the Official Information Act.

The suggestion, which can be traced back to those freewheeling anarchists at the Law Commission, was not for compulsory disclosure of everything.

It merely proposed that the Act should be extended to cover parliamentary business.

It was the equivalent of an opt-in, rather than an opt-out, clause. If you wanted to find out something you would still have to go to some trouble.

But when Geoffrey Palmer, who called the government's decision "entirely specious" and "a smokescreen", is the radical in the room, then you know there's a basic principle being trampled on.

Palmer is not an out-on-a-limb kind of guy. He is the kind of guy whose idea of a joke is to describe the Act's standing among politicians as being "as popular as a pork chop in a synagogue" (kids, ask your parents).

But it was all too much for this Government. Collins noted that we are heaps more open than lots of places. In fact, we are quite open enough, thank you. Indeed, international rankings consistently rate us one of the best performers in that regard. "New Zealand: where there's nothing really worth hiding."

But there's no such thing as too open. And shouldn't we be setting our own standards for things, rather than saying, "Hey, we're way better than North Korea"?

The problem for this Government is that we do know how lucky we are. Kim Dotcom and the Government Communications Security Bureau flouting our law to do another nation's bidding. Secret spy sleepovers. Secret Hollywood dinners. The Sky City pokies for a convention centre quid pro quo, shrouded in obfuscation.

We do not know in any but the vaguest detail why the Binnie report on David Bain is to be ignored. The price of our good luck is eternal vigilance and what we've been seeing lately hasn't given us any reason to be confident.

Little by little, smirk by smirk, deal by deal, this Government has undermined our faith in its transparency. Opening itself up to more scrutiny would go some way to restoring our confidence.

For another perspective on our place in the greater scheme of things, we can look at a small piece of online genius called a Laconic History of the World, created by cartographer Martin Elmer. It's a map of the globe in which the shape of each country is rendered as a word. The word for each place is that which appears most frequently in the country's history entry on Wikipedia. It shows the one thing with which those places are most identified. For the large icy continent below us, the word is Expedition. For the large dry one next to us it is New. But for 16 per cent of countries, including the United States and all of Western Europe, the word is War. This country's word is Maori. We are, along with the homes of the Berber, Oghuz and Shilluk peoples, one of the few nations to be identified by our indigenous people.

- Herald on Sunday

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