Research probes New Zealand’s record on transparency in government

A new report from Victoria University of Wellington questions New Zealand's long-standing international reputation for integrity and openness, and puts forward ideas to make government more open.

The report, Bridges Both Ways, is written by Victoria’s Institute for Governance and Policy Studies research associate Max Rashbrooke, and looks at New Zealand’s record on openness—public transparency, political participation and anti-corruption policies.

Mr Rashbrooke says New Zealand has much to be proud of—but there are some serious problems.

“Political donations are badly regulated, official information laws are being circumvented, and opportunities for deep citizen engagement with politics are limited.

“New Zealand is also passing up the chance to get on board with the latest global push for greater openness, which is being impelled both by advances in technology and citizens' growing expectations of greater transparency in many parts of their lives.”

Making government more open means ensuring that where practical and appropriate, core political decisions are made in the full view of the public, says Mr Rashbrooke.

“That means key information is available, political decisions are free from corruption, the public can hold its leaders accountable, and ordinary people are directly involved in making decisions as often as possible. Ultimately this makes government more honest, more effective and more democratic. It also builds trust between the governors and the governed, and gives political decisions more legitimacy.”

The report suggests there are many options to improve New Zealand’s level of openness, from straightforward amendments to legislation, to more far reaching and innovative ideas.

These include the idea of crowdsourcing bills—so the public gets the opportunity to submit proposals for legislation—and democratising party funding by giving each voter a voucher to allocate to the party of their choice.

Mr Rashbrooke says regardless of which policies are taken up, inaction is not an option.

“While New Zealand's long-standing reputation as an open and transparent country should be a source of pride, it must not be a source of complacency.”