There was an interesting interview involving Taxpayers’ Union head Jordan Williams yesterday morning aired on Radio New Zealand.
His appearance was a defence of the use of fake names when making OIA requests. Why The Taxpayer’s Union could not get real private persons to ask the questions on its behalf was not explained. At least when real people ask questions there should be an obligation to reply. But if the names are fictitious then you have to question everything else that the “union” says.
Radio New Zealand summarised the interview in this way:
A right-wing lobby group has defended its use of false names when lodging Official Information Act requests, saying the practice is necessary and in the public interest.
Executive director of the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union, Jordan Williams, told Morning Report the number of information requests using the practice was “certainly under 40” and that these had only been lodged after it became clear the organisation was being stonewalled by government agencies.
He said revelations of the practice were embarrassing, but also a poor reflection on the level of transparency shown by some agencies his group had put under scrutiny.
The NZ Herald uncovered evidence showing people seeking information did not actually exist and that numerous email addresses from its purported members were directly linked to the group’s head office.
One single Taxpayers’ Union email address was linked to nine fake identities who filed OIAs seeking information, including details later used by the lobby group to seek disseminate stories in the media.
Mr Williams claimed his organisation made requests to Callaghan Innovation using ghost names because an insider at the science research institute revealed to them the group’s requests were being treated differently to others.
Callaghan Innovation received a total of 58 OIA requests last year, of which 35 were from the Taxpayers’ Union or people associated with the lobby group.
He claimed that TU Official Information Act requests were being deliberately held up by Callaghan Innovation. But it made me wonder why they would do this.
The Taxpayers’ Union’s concentration on Callaghan Innovation is interesting. It is not as if the organisation is a socialist front. The Chief Executive is Vic Crone, the right’s Auckland Mayoral candidate last election.
And the board is hardly a seething mess of left wingers. Sure the current chair is former Labour Minister Pete Hodgson. But he was only appointed in January of this year. Well after the problems started.
And other board members were all National appointments. Deputy chair Robin Hapi was appointed in January 2013. Al Monro was appointed in July 2015. Frances Valintine, Kate McGrath and Simon Botherway were appointed in March 2016. And Stefan Korn and George Gong were appointed in September 2017 by Paul Goldsmith, interestingly during the election campaign period.
So the Taxpayers’ Union along with its eight employees’ preoccupation with Callaghan Institute is somewhat surprising. Unless it is evidence of the conservative civil war in Auckland that seems to have been going on for a while. Maybe the supporters of the John Palino Mayoral campaign, at least until he supported Maori representation, are really annoyed that Crone bet their man.