Submission: Zero Carbon Bill

The NZ Council for Civil Liberties has made a submission (PDF) about the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill.

We do not comment on the substance of the Bill but are alarmed by the attack on people’s rights to information created by a provision within it. The current Climate Change Response Act already includes a worryingly anti-OIA pro-secrecy section 99, one which is significantly expanded by the Zero Carbon Bill to include the Climate Change Commission. As our submission puts it:

The effect of clause 10 will be that neither MPs, the public, civil society groups nor the media will be able to obtain information under the OIA from the Commission about the discharging of its responsibilities under Parts 1A to 1C beyond what the Commission and Ministers choose to publish.

Furthermore, it includes criminal penalties for officials revealing information:

Officials working for the Climate Change Commission will be under a legal duty to “keep confidential all information that comes into the person’s knowledge when performing any function or exercising any power” ​ in Parts 1A to 1C. If they fail to do so, they commit an offence under section 130 and can be sent to jail for 6 months and/or fined up to $15,000.

We believe that this end-run around the Official Information Act is totally unjustified. The OIA already includes more than enough grounds to withhold information and we should not be including arbitrary and unnecesary carve-outs in other laws.

Our submission makes suggestions to rectify this situation, taking into account the need to protect some information while still promoting open government and protecting the public’s right to know.

Finally, we note the significant irony that a Minister with responsibilities for the environment is the one introducing greater secrecy to the most significant field of public policy of our times, since one of the key external pressures for adoption of the OIA was public frustration about the secrecy of government information on projects with major environmental impacts, such as the Clyde Dam