Waiting (forever) for official information…

I’ve been blogging a bit recently (here and here) about changes to student loan eligibility criteria after TV3 revealed in this story that a number of postgraduate students who thought they had been given an assurance by Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce that they would still get a student allowance in 2013 found out that their allowance has been cut off along with everyone else’s.

Back when the changes were announced, I asked Minister Joyce via written question for a list of policy advice he considered when making this incredibly short-sighted decision.

He revealed that the following documents exist and were considered by the Government before deciding to change the student allowance eligibility criteria:

-Student Allowances: Further advice on Budget 2012 options (9 March 2012)

-Impact of student allowance initiatives (23 March 2012)

-Information to support joint Ministers’ meeting on Wednesday 28 March on student support Budget proposals (27 March 2012)

-Student allowances: Removing eligibility for postgraduate study (12 April 2012)

I requested these under the Official Information Act back in July and received the Minister’s response in August, declining my request on the grounds that “the information requested is, or soon will be publicly available”. Well, nearly four months have passed and this information is still not publically available. I don’t know about you, but ‘soon’ certainly doesn’t mean four months or more in my books!

In the absence of any publicly-available policy advice on these ill-considered changes, students have started doing their own research, and they are finding widespread dismay amongst postgraduate students at the impact of these changes. I suspect the officials advised the Minister much the same, which is why he’s so reluctant to release the advice. I have complained to the Ombudsman about the slow response. Meanwhile I’ll continue to chase up this important advice and will share it as soon as I have it… if ever!

7 Comments Posted

  1. Most elected representatives (at least at a Local Government level) aren’t even aware of the requirements of either the LGOIMA or OIA, or see it as an irritant- witness Michael Laws’ refusal to release his ‘private’ emails and text messages. That attitude has now started to seep down to the bureaucracy as well.

    On top of that, there seems to be a general lack of understanding of the OIA and the LGOIMA by the public service. I have even seen some government employees point blank refuse to answer requests for information because they are ‘too busy’ or don’t feel it is important.

  2. The National party is under funding the ombudsman’s office so disclosure of nationals corruption and incompetence happens less frequently ……

    The Ombudsman plays a very important role in keeping governments honest …. National cant have that happening so their hobbling them.

  3. One way to speed things up is to write a letter to the Speaker of the House, or even simply suggest to the Ombudsman that that’s what you’re contemplating. Things will change pretty quickly. It’s a shame, though, that people should have to resort to this because the problem isn’t the Ombudsman’s fault, it’s about how their office is woefully under-resourced – their office is in total disarray. But when a citizen has to wait up to what is now often years for a result and while doing so suffer the ongoing injustice at the hands of the State which their complaint to the Ombudsman was intended to remedy, you can’t really blame them.

    Someone needs to approach Parliament, through the Speaker, to begin serious discussions about how to address this totally unacceptable situation that’s crushed the Ombudsman’s ability to do its job, and consequently has removed a major part of democratic process. Of course, it suits our current right-wing government to have a government watchdog that’s dysfunctional because right-wing governments don’t like democracy, but we don’t need to say this to them.

  4. You’re not the only one to be having trouble getting information under the OIA Holly. I’ve been waiting since October 2011 for one of my requests to be resolved. So far the Ombudsman has missed every self imposed deadline. I guess they just expect people to give up trying to attain information they don’t want to release.

    In your case it may be that the documents Steven Joyce listed don’t actually exist at all… It wouldn’t be the first time that National made policy decisions without actually having any advice as to the social consequences. How exactly they expect students to achieve when they’re being messed around like that is beyond me.

  5. Actually I suspect that it is simply the natural reaction of a right wing loon to any Green actually questioning his judgement. He (and his staff) ignored it…

    My understanding of the people in this government and their attitude to the general public (and to the Green party) is that contempt is no small part of what we are getting.

    Intellectual honesty is entirely absent. Keep confronting them Holly… and don’t be nice about it. Make sure the press gets it too.

    The feet-to-the-flame approach is required to get the truth out of these people, and getting at the truth helps to increase their levels of cognitive dissonance, which makes them uncomfortable.

    I match them contempt for contempt. They are poisonously ignorant ideologues… and those are their GOOD qualities. The PM is I think, committing active treason against the people of New Zealand and the world.

  6. I would be tempted to also ask why the minister thought that some of these documents might already be publicly available. Otherwise why would he have said “is, or soon will be” rather than just “soon will be”?


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