National signed its confidence and supply agreement with ACT today. The headline news is that David Seymour get more patronage from National, in the form of being appointed Parliamentary Under Secretary to the Minister of Education and Parliamentary Under Secretary to the Minister for Regulatory Reform. For those who don’t know, a Parliamentary Under Secretary (or PUS) is a rarely-used holdover from our Westminster roots. PUSes exercise specific delegated authority from Ministers, but are not members of the executive. They cannot be asked questions at Question Time (but can answer for an absent Minister), so their official conduct is not subject to Parliamentary oversight. And they’re not subject to the Official Information Act. Case Note W44374 (no permalink, but you can look it up here) notes:
An Under-Secretary’s appointment is not part of a Minister’s appointment. The position of Parliamentary Under-Secretary is a distinct appointment made pursuant to s 8 of the Constitution Act 1986 by warrant of the Governor-General.
The post of Parliamentary Under-Secretary is not listed in Part II of the First Schedule to the Ombudsmen Act 1975 or in the First Schedule to the Official Information Act 1982. Neither is information held by an Under-Secretary deemed to be information “held” by the relevant Minister for the purpose of the Official Information Act.
In the circumstances, information held by an Under-Secretary is not “official information” for the purposes of the Official Information Act.
In other words, its a model for total unaccountability. Which raises serious questions about what the National government is trying to hide.
Its also highlighted a loophole in our OIA regime which needs to be plugged. Anyone want to bring a member’s bill?