Some bloggers are having a bit of a fit over some minutes that were sent to National MP Aaron Gilmore by accident and that include a note of a discussion of parliamentary services resource.
While that’s a bit of a non-story and Cameron Slater’s “big scoop” will turn out to be a fizzer (as usual), it does raise some issues about parliamentary services spending and public transparency.
You see parliamentary services has not been put on the schedule of the Official Information Act, which means neither the media or the public can find out about any detail about what money is being spent on (or how much), or what information is being passed around.
A parliamentary staffer could, for instance, be employed to research political opponents and pass the information on to party members or party bloggers and, despite such behaviour being unlawful, we’d never be able to find out about it
Similarly we can’t find out how much of each party’s parliamentary budget is spend on things like market research or polling or indeed who they were employing for such work or how much they are being paid.
It’s even feasible that a contractor to a political party could be in receipt of payment far greater than their “official” work, such as polling or speech-writing, would warrant in exchange for them doing work PS would never pay for such as party-political commentary. And we’d never know because we would never be able to find out how much was being spent or for how much return.
We simply wouldn’t stand such a massive lack of accountability in any other government department.
But it gets worse, I’m reliably informed that some ministerial staffers have been conducting parliamentary business by gmail, to further avoid culpability. Chris Hipkins also has concerns about this. It would certainly explain some of the holes in the ministerial communication surrounding the hobbit dispute.
So what’s the answer? Personally I think it’s as simple as putting parliamentary services on the OIA and allowing it to be applied retrospectively.
John Key has already shown increased transparency with ministerial spending, now is the time to shine that light a little further.
I’m sure Cameron and David would agree with me.