Politics

Govt ministers to proactively release diaries

The diaries of ministers will be proactively released to the public in a bid to build greater trust and confidence in government, State Services Minister Chris Hipkins has announced.

The decision comes following several ministers’ failures to disclose meetings in written responses to parliamentary questions and broader concerns about the Government’s approach to transparency.

Announcing the new policy on Monday morning, Hipkins said there was public interest in knowing more about the meetings that were held by ministers.

“The move helps build trust and confidence in government,” Hipkins said.

The change follows an earlier announcement from Hipkins in September that the Government would release Cabinet papers within 30 business days of a final decision being made “unless there is good reason not to publish”.

The diaries will be released on the Beehive website within 15 business days following the end of each month, with details to include the date, start and finish time, location, and a brief description of the meeting, who it was with and which portfolio it related to.

Hipkins said the releases would be consistent with the provisions of the Official Information Act, including privacy considerations.

Diary-related dramas

The Government has been struck by a number of diary-related scandals, with former Cabinet minister Clare Curran and Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones failing to disclose meetings in answers to written questions submitted by the opposition.  

Curran resigned back in September after failing to declare a meeting with Derek Handley over his appointment to the now defunct chief technology officer position, having omitted a coffee conversation with former RNZ head of content Carol Hirschfeld from official answers earlier in the year.

Jones played down his own failure to disclose 61 meetings, describing it to the NZ Herald as a “clerical mismatch in the office” - a defence National MP Paul Goldsmith said was “completely implausible”.

“New Zealanders have a right to know who ministers are meeting with when making decisions that affect their communities."

The Greens and lobbying group Taxpayers’ Union have both welcomed the diary decision.

Greens co-leader Marama Davidson said the party had long pushed for the release of ministerial diaries, with Green ministers proactively releasing their own diaries for the first time in July.

“New Zealanders have a right to know who ministers are meeting with when making decisions that affect their communities,” Davidson said.

The Taxpayers’ Union called for local councils and mayors to follow the Government’s move, as a formal process would reduce OIA requests and “ultimately save taxpayer money”.

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