Politics

Greens release ministerial meetings

The Green Party has revealed who its ministers are meeting behind closed doors for the first time, saying the move is about “shining a light” on the inner workings of government.

The party's proactive release of its ministerial diary details may put pressure on other Government partners to follow its lead, as the Government tries to live up to a promise of being “the most open, most transparent Government ever”.

In March, the Greens announced they would proactively release their ministerial diaries every three months to show who they were meeting and why.

On Tuesday morning, the party released the diary details of its ministers to show who they met between April and June.

The documents outline a seemingly unremarkable array of meetings for Green ministers over the three-month period.

Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage met McDonalds and Coca Cola separately to hear about the companies’ work on waste minimisation.

Climate Change Minister James Shaw met US Ambassador Scott Brown on April 1 to talk about the Government’s climate change policy and former Labour MP Annette King on May 21 for a “discussion of ministerial experience”.

Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter’s meetings include those from a trip to Denmark and Sweden, while Jan Logie, the parliamentary undersecretary to the Justice Minister with a focus on domestic and sexual violence issues, met a number of victims whose names were not disclosed.

The disclosures cover meetings on ministerial business with outside people or organisations, but not those attended in a personal capacity, a party-political role, or public events.

'Shining a light'

Shaw, the Greens Co-leader, told Newsroom the party had a history of leading the way on transparency, becoming the first party to voluntarily publish its expenses a decade ago.

“This has been something that’s been bubbling away in the political sphere for donkey's years really, and I’m just pleased that the Greens are finally able to shine a light on it.”

Shaw said the main obstacle to the release was the logistics of gathering and preparing it, which created an extra layer of work for ministerial offices already “jammed” with work.

People or organisations who wanted to meet Green ministers were informed both ahead of the meeting and afterwards that their details would be published in the disclosure, with Shaw saying there was no pushback.

The question of when an MP is wearing their ministerial hat has been raised recently, with Stuff reporting on Grant Robertson’s attendance at a $600-a-head fundraiser; although Robertson’s office and Labour Party president Nigel Haworth said he was attending as an MP, the invitation billed him as “the Finance Minister, Hon Grant Robertson”.

“The point of the exercise is to try and build trust actually, just by saying in my capacity as a minister, here is who I am meeting.”

Shaw said it was usually clear to the ministers and their staff whether they were attending a meeting in their official capacity or not, with fundraisers “blisteringly clear” as a party event.

In the past, he had sought further advice from officials on whether he should agree to a meeting if there was any uncertainty.

Shaw conceded the public would have to take the Greens’ diary disclosures on trust, but hoped the decision to proactively release information would help win over sceptics.

“The point of the exercise is to try and build trust actually, just by saying in my capacity as a minister, here is who I am meeting.”

Most transparent Government ever?

The Government has come under fire at points for its approach to transparency, with any failures to disclose official information ripe for the picking after Associate State Services Minister Clare Curran promised it would be “the most open, most transparent Government that New Zealand has ever had”.

At the time of the furore over its refusal to release a 38-page document said to contain directives for new ministers, there were murmurings all ministerial diaries could end up being proactively released - something that hasn’t come to fruition.

Shaw said the Greens’ Government partners did not need to follow in its footsteps, with the party making its own decision based on its commitments in Opposition.

The confidence and supply agreement between Labour and the Greens includes a commitment to “strengthen New Zealand’s democracy by increasing public participation, openness, and transparency around official information”.

Shaw said he stayed in contact with Curran, who has been tasked with leading the Government’s transparency initiatives, to keep up to date with her progress.

“I think there is an absolutely genuine commitment to it and we’re kind of working through it - it doesn’t all happen on day one.”

The open government commitment in the coalition agreement was not a priority for the Greens’ first year but would be addressed by the end of the term, he said.

“I think there is an absolutely genuine commitment to it and we’re kind of working through it - it doesn’t all happen on day one.”

In a statement, Curran said the Government was committed to increasing transparency and would release a new “open government action plan” later in the year.

The Government was also investigating a system for the proactive release of some official information, while she was working with departments to increase the amount of material they routinely released.

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