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Open government – Open Labour

Written By: - Date published: 8:50 am, April 30th, 2010 - 23 comments
Categories: accountability, activism, community democracy, democratic participation, labour - Tags:

It’s fantastic to see Labour’s Clare Curran working on an Open Government policy as a major plank for the next election. I’m pretty sure that it’s something various authors here have suggested over the last year and a bit – great minds, eh?

And taking an open approach to the policy development is a stroke of genius.

When authors on The Standard were first talking about this, few could have predicted how undemocratic and secretive this government would be – Supercity, the Worth Affair, ECan, abuse of Urgency, the unanswered questions around the Heatley resignation, blocking Justice’s from advising the select committee that the 3 strikes law may increase murders, Key lying about plans to sign the DRIP, Whanau Ora, Bennett’s bribery, the list goes on.

Politically, then, Labour has an incredible opportunity to position itself in contrast to National. And taking a brand new approach, distancing itself from its formerly highly centralised approach, cements that.

But, more than that, this is stuff that matters. If National has done anything, it is prove that we need greater transparency and checks over the exercise of government power. Governments that want to can get away with too much by abusing their power and acting secretively – literally murder, in the case of 3 strikes.

I want to think a bit more before putting up my full ideas on this issue but here are a few that spring to mind:

– Citizen assemblies

– OIA for Parliamentary Service (not the political stuff, it’s just the spending people are really interested in)

– requiring lobby groups to register and declare their funding as in Canada

– adopting the Canadian rules on political donations

– requiring the Attorney- General to report on the rights implications of all legislation (Justice already reports this to the A-G) and requiring MPs or ministers responsible for a Bill to reply to a report showing breaches.

It seems this will be just the first policy that Labour takes out to the community during the development process. It’s a fantastic move. And some props need to be given to the Greens who have always placed transparency at the heart of their policy-making.

Oh, and one more thing, isn’t it impressive to see the depth of talent in Labour shining through? Compare to National: corrupt and incompetent ministers, a backbench of no hopers, and one real asset – a fella with a nice smile.


23 comments on “Open government – Open Labour”

  1. Armchair Critic 1

    The National party’s charm offensive through the MSM has paid short term dividends. However the charm is beginning to wear off, even this last week it has been evident with rumblings of discontent coming through more clearly, and less favourable coverage. It can not work long term.
    Meanwhile National appear to be missing or ignoring the signs that the MSM model is stuttering and beginning to fail, and people are turning to alternative media for information. And National’s current strategy will not work through the new media.
    Will Labour’s plan work? Maybe not, but I hope it succeeds.
    How long until that nice Mr Farrar tells his buddies that this newfangled interweb thing is good for more than downloading porn?

    • Bright Red 1.1

      “How long until that nice Mr Farrar tells his buddies that this newfangled interweb thing is good for more than downloading porn?”

      judging by his blog, with it’s frequent ‘boobs!’ and sex posts, I’m not sure Farrar knows that.

    • Draco T Bastard 1.2

      But, didn’t you know?

      er, not exactly SFW.

  2. vto 2

    On a right track it sounds. As a ranting member of the public who swings the vote on the most odd occasion my 2c says that one of the things that gets people offside the most is the secretive nature of things.

    I know from business etc dealings in my locale that the best way of getting things moving your way is by way of quiet whsipered words to the right person at the right event / occasion. It is definitely not done by being open and even the slightest bit loud. For an example, given that goon David Carter’s recent admission of the rort in Canterbury, imagine the many many quiet whispered words and meetings between him and Allan Hubbard.

    Carter and Hubbard should be open about their links.

    Carter has just spouted on about the need for more irrigation – Hubbard has just received an award for leadership in irrigation. You think they don’t cohort? As someone who has approximately 35% of my life’s work taken by the govt I want to know about that 35%.

    Good on Labour for the openness idea. Just need to sort out some of the more loopy policies and you may well be away again…

  3. I’d like to see Labour MP’s start by not accepting the tax cut for high income earners otherwise they dont have the moral highground to criticise the go’vt from and making ‘AXE the TAX’ look like a token PR stunt…

    Open policy development is a good look though. Hopefully it’ll lead to on line voting and referenda.

  4. Green Tea 4

    What Clare Curren is proposing hardly looks like Open Government. Its looks more like a political marketing focus group spun as ‘Open Government’.

  5. Bill 5

    Seems to me that what Labour are essentially saying is that ‘they will listen’…which means what?

    And I don’t want to appear too cynical, but in democratic centralism ( which is what Labour is positing) there is a lot of listening goes on. But there is sweet f.a. in the way of democracy peculating up from the bottom to top or from periphery to centre. How could it? There is an obvious contradiction there.

    I thought we had learned that one. Remember…oh, never mind. Can’t be bothered with the inconvenience of moderation.

    Anyway. Sadly, it seems we have learned nothing.

    If Labour are at all genuine in claiming to want transparent government, then they need to establish mechanisms that root the democracy and it’s legitimacy and expression in the community…not just cynically put out suckers to feed on the information from it.

    Labour divesting itself of power and deliberately passing down the prerogative to make decisions?

    Pull the other one chaps. Not happening.

    • Maynard J 5.1

      What is the difference between “establish[ing] mechanisms that root the democracy and it’s legitimacy and expression in the community”


      “cynically put out suckers to feed on the information from it”

      in a representative democracy?

      I can think of a disctinction, perhaps it is not yours, but allow me to have a crack: Is there some difference between using information to win votes and using information to make policy people want? And if so how is it you know Labout are doing the former? Foirgive me if I am barking up the wrong tree.

      • Bill 5.1.1

        Wrong tree barking.

        I’ll put it differently. Being more responsive to constituencies in a representative democratic setting is nominally a good thing.

        But it’s not any more democratic than the reality we are living right now and shouldn’t be touted as such.

        People will perhaps feel less frustrated. People will perhaps feel they have more of a stake in what is going on. But if the power and the degree to which it is concentrated in certain strata of society or institutions remains unchanged, then I just cannot for the life of me see how anyone can logically argue that we have taken any steps along any path towards ‘more’ democracy.

        In fact the opposite might be true as the lessening frustration and the growing sense of being a part of things when nothing fundamental has changed may well lead to fewer calls from those below to those on high to account for themselves…their position… and justify themselves and their actions.

        And if calls for democracy become less urgent and more infrequent, then isn’t it the case that this less opaque government constitutes a backward step and a threat to democracy?

    • Draco T Bastard 5.2

      Well, Bill, that may be true but we do have to start somewhere. We ended up with capitalism because, after the last English revolution, the capitalists managed to take control. The minimal democracy that they allowed was mostly due to the fact that there were still a lot of armed serfs running around and they didn’t want to be on the receiving end. Since then our society has evolved, becoming more democratic. This is another step along the way.

      Another revolution will just end up with another bunch of people in power rather than being more democratic.

  6. Herodotus 6

    When authors on The Standard were first talking about this, few could have predicted how undemocratic and secretive this government would be .. The same is also applicable to the 99-08 Lab govt.
    Nice to at least see someone in Lab wants to get their hands dirty and talk WITH the great unwashed.
    My concern is that Lab will only listen just like Nats and prev Lab govts when what the masses want is in agreement with THEIR parties policies.
    NZ for me requries some dramatic reavulation of where we are going and how this is to be achieved. How will with this could Lab have policies that are not welcome by the majority, there are some major issues on the horizon, obesity, pension entitlements even drinking age, govt spending and means of payment for these. Also how do we balance giving incentives to those setting up business or taking a (Acceptable) risk with what rewards they should expect. We do not want to tax the crap out of something mildly successful and disinsentivise There are times that unpalitable decisions and policies aer required and the skill is how these are communicated to be reluctantley accepted by the voters

    • Draco T Bastard 6.1

      We do not want to tax the crap out of something mildly successful and disinsentivise

      You’re still thinking in the capitalist mindset and capitalism is a failure.

      There are times that unpalitable decisions and policies aer required and the skill is how these are communicated to be reluctantley accepted by the voters

      By being open and honest?

  7. Pascal's bookie 7

    “There are times that unpalitable decisions and policies aer required and the skill is how these are communicated to be reluctantley accepted by the voters”

    seems to be in direct conflict with

    “My concern is that Lab will only listen just like Nats and prev Lab govts when what the masses want is in agreement with THEIR parties policies”

    But perhaps I misunderstand…

  8. Herodotus 8

    Many of my “My concern is that Lab will only listen just like Nats and prev Lab govts when what the masses want is in agreement with THEIR parties policies’ was that it had nothing to do with solving looming issues. The descissions were for example (and I use LAb as they come to mind more readily) Changing the legal system (Privy Council),titular system (Yet the politicians retained the part of the system that related to them Some self interest!!), S59, mining for short term gains by BOTH Nats & Lab, and all things that Winny will grandstand on. In summary popularists votes that do NOT fix the real issues.
    The unpopular side are those theat can guide the country forward reviewing tax system, increasing pension age and drinking age say, issues that the good outweighs vest interest of the voter. But PB I can fully understand your misunderstanding I did not communicate this well. Still donot think I have communicated well but hopefully you getthe idea?

  9. This signals a new era for labour. One that will make them more democratic and open to new opinions. Or I like to hope so.

  10. SHG 11

    At Red Alert yesterday I made a post that questioned Labour’s credentials as far as “openness” is concerned, using the Erin Leigh debacle as an example. Funnily enough that question got deleted. I guess there’s open and there’s open.

    Meet the new Labour, same as the old Labour.

    • Bright Red 11.1

      that’s because you were trolling. trolls get deleted or they destory it for everyone else.

  11. Michael Gibson 12

    This is just more driveling spin from Labour, impotently gnashing its teeth in opposition, to where it was dispatched after the people got fed up with its lies and mendacity. Labour did all this before, while languishing in opposition throughout the 1990s. Then, it pretended to consult with the people and promise all sorts of changes to our system of government. I recall a session with a prominent Labour in the 1990s, in which assurances that the party would adhere to the principles of social democracy once in office again were made profusely. LOL indeed, and here we are again in 2010, with the same claptrap trotted out once more. I have no doubt Labour will carefully comb through the responses it receives as a result of this exercise but I have absolutely no confidence that it will actually change anything. What’s the name of that lot in England being beaten into third place and is that an example of the third way in action? TTFN.

    • lprent 12.1

      I recall a session with a prominent Labour in the 1990s, in which assurances that the party would adhere to the principles of social democracy once in office again were made profusely.

      And that is pretty much what they did.

      The problem in the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s was with political parties saying one thing when they were standing for office, and then doing something completely different when in office. Rodger Douglas and his economic programme being the obvious target, but similarly Robert Muldoon, and the early Bolger government.

      The 5th Labour government largely stuck by their election promises and election policies, often not to the level that some people wanted, but at least to the level that they’d promised.

      This new initiative is quite different. They’re offering an ability for people outside of the party to have an opportunity to provide input in making policy.

      Looks to me like you’re simply expressing your prejudices and preconceived ideas rather than actually looking at what Labour are offering. You look like a simple bigot to me.

      • Jim Nald 12.1.1

        My reading of Clare Curran/Labour’s latest proposal is it is new and courageous but can be potentially dangerous and backfire on them – being willing to go ahead with this initiative convey to me that they are intent on trying to effect real change.

        That is an emerging contrast with the current parties in power who are shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic as far as the majority of citizens are concerned, or rearranging legal and regulatory governance for their rich elites and cronies to profiteer, and engaging in spin to distort and manipulate facts to ensure they keep the seats of power.

        In planning strategically with the citizenry for the future of the country, Clare/Labour will need to be tactical about how they manage the risks for themselves and yet generate policy ideas, which are closer to grassroots and voters, to campaign on.

      • Swampy 12.1.2

        Promises are all one thing, what matters in this context is the stuff they did that wasn’t mentioned in any manifesto and therefore not subject to any public statements made.

        Labour is a party which is made up of various special interest groups, which by and large are most unlikely to want to give up any of their political power and agendas to outsiders.

        (The above is a fairly accurate description of just about any of the mainstream political parties and is not really specific to the Labour party)

        If anyone wants to start banging a drum about accountability, I’ll believe it when I see commitments to serious checks on Parliamentary power like a written constitution or a Senate. In the current MMP context people are asking and have asked serious questions about the way that party lists are drawn up. If any questions like that are open to serious discussion that would be quite a different thing.

  12. Swampy 13

    Oh yeah, since you mention “corrupt”.

    Last term Mr Field, MP, was convicted in the courts of corrupt electoral practice (perhaps someone can recall for me exactly what those charges were).

    Has the Labour Party ever publicly denounced him (I know they sacked him from membership, however I am interested in words rather than actions)

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