There are several tools that I use as an opposition MP to help constituents and to convey your voice to Wellington. These include the Official Information Act (OIA), Local Government Act (LGA) and Written Parliamentary Questions (WPQ).
Here are some examples of how I have used these tools to benefit you:
• Finding out that Puriri Park has the worst return on investment by Housing NZ of any land purchased by HNZ anywhere in NZ (OIA).
• Matt King and myself are the only general electorate Northland MPs who have lobbied the Minister of Transport for four lanes from Wellsford to Whangārei (WPQ).
• Meningitis experts were never told there were enough vaccines for all Northland children (OIA).
• Ombudsman drops investigation into MP Shane Reti's complaint after Whangārei District Council complies, apologises
• Shane Reti: Shift in Govt road funding priorities raises questions for Whangārei projects
• Shane Reti: There were enough meningitis vaccines for Northland children
As you can see, these tools are important for holding the government to account no matter who is in government.
Here, then, is the issue I want to raise. A few weeks ago I created a written parliamentary question and asked the Minister of Education, Chris Hipkins, what papers he had taken to Cabinet.
He replied that he took three papers to Cabinet in the period that I was asking, and named two of them but withheld the third saying: "I am withholding the title of one of the papers as it is not in the public interest to release it at this time."
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This seemed a little odd. I just wanted the name of the paper not the content and it is education not security or defence. So, I decided to probe further and created a follow-up question asking on what aspects of public interest is the Minister declining to release the name of the paper.
Bizarrely he replied: "It is not in the public interest to say."
Now let's understand this, for the name of the document I am seeking, Chris Hipkins is saying it is not in the public interest to tell me why it is not in the public interest.
Put another way, I'm not going to tell you why I'm not giving you the name of an education document that I have shared with 20 Cabinet colleagues and endless officials.
There are two parts to this and I would welcome your views. The first is that giving no reason for why it is not in the public interest to decline is surely a blatant abuse and failure of the transparency and accountability that any government must have.
Giving no reason for why it is not in the public interest to decline is surely a blatant abuse and failure of the transparency and accountability that any government must have.
The Minister could have chosen any one of 11 reasons allowed under the Official Information Act for not releasing the information, eg the health and safety of individuals, and that would have been the end of it.
Secondly, I would contend that the Minister is wrong and that the name of the document is in the public interest.
The Ombudsman states that public interest includes the level of public interest, the number of people affected and the significance of the issue, eg environment, health, safety, civil rights, social welfare, education, public funds.
The use of public funds are especially recognised by the courts as being in the public interest.
I think we all need to appropriately monitor every government of the day,no matter who they are, and make sure the tools of transparency and accountability are being rightfully used.
My request was just for the name of an education document. This can be easily fixed. Minister Hipkins, tell me the name of the document.
• Dr Shane Reti is the Member of Parliament for Whangārei.