“The Prime Minister’s ‘lobbying crackdown’ is purely symbolic and a distraction from the real issue – the Official Information Act. There can be no accountability if there are no penalties for suppressing and covering up information,” says ACT Leader David Seymour.

“Labour is throwing Stuart Nash under the bus and trying to throw New Zealanders off the scent of the real story which is that the Prime Minister’s office knew about the offending email and suppressed it. New lobbying laws won’t work if Ministers don’t release information that’s asked for.

“The OIA is widely abused by Ministers and their officials. If they want to suppress damaging information, they can. The worst that will happen is the Ombudsman might come along several months later and tell them to release the information. There’s no incentive to comply with the law and our democracy is poorer for it.

“There needs to be criminal penalties for knowing and deliberate non-compliance with the OIA. Ministers and Government departments need to know there will be consequences for deliberately flouting the rules.

“Problems with Government transparency aren’t because of lobbyists, as Hipkins desperately wants people to believe. If you doubt that, here’s a question: How will new transparency laws around lobbying work, if Ministers don’t release records of meetings and correspondence even when asked?

“The problem is that Ministers and bureaucrats know they can get away with breaking the law. The Prime Minister’s office looked at a critical email that legally needed to be released multiple times and didn’t release it. They expect Kiwis to believe it was the most convenient set of mistakes in the history of New Zealand politics.

“Stuart Nash’s emails aren’t the first time Labour has run afoul of the OIA. A leaked message from Kiri Allan to Labour’s Caucus revealed Cabinet Ministers telling MPs to avoid using ‘OIA-able’ means of communication because ‘things unfolding through OIA process less than desirable’. There have been accusations of Labour Party workshops on how to avoid OIAs.

“Labour promised to reform the OIA and they promised to be different. But they have been as bad, if not worse, than other governments when it comes to transparency.

“The point of the OIA is to make information available so the Government can be held accountable. It is a critical part of our democracy. But if departments and Ministers can suppress information without penalty, there is no accountability.

“The Act’s purposes are to increase the availability of official information to New Zealanders, enable them to participate in law-making, promote accountability, and enhance respect for the law. There needs to be an incentive to comply with the law or New Zealand’s democracy is poorer for it.”

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