By all accounts, this current administration seems committed to stability, responsiveness and responsibility. Government agencies and institutions need to reshape themselves to support these efforts.
Of the raft of bills—nearly 30, including the 2017 budget, plus a couple of motions for good measure—tabled for what promises to be a parliamentary marathon, we’ve received a listing, but when we sent a staffer to Parliament to collect the actual bills, we were told they would be ready on the 21st, the day Parliament actually meets.
That’s just not right. It’s always been this way, but it’s no longer correct or necessary to hold onto the bills so tightly. Parliament has a website, and it’s got competent technical staff. There is no reason why all the bills and motions should not be available for public scrutiny today, right now.
As it happens, a conscientious MP has been forwarding widely all the bills he’s received from the Clerk as they arrive. That shouldn’t be necessary.
Access to information is effectively access to democracy. Conversely, a lack of access breeds complacency toward public policy. Right now, the silence around the budget is deafening. This is a perennial issue, born of the difficulty of getting access to the actual documents as of ignorance and lack of context. But it doesn’t have to continue. Since the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer was created, big strides have been taken in ensuring that departmental business processes got technical support and automation. The web presence of the government as a whole has improved, and some ministries have take steps to integrate communications and messaging into their day to day operations.
Parliament has been slower than some. While it made history recently by ensuring that every MP had his own laptop and access to the internet, the Clerk’s office continues to follow a rather old-school protocol when it comes to distributing legislative materials.
The Standing Orders require that MPs receive copies of legislation no less than 10 days before Parliament sits, and while that may have been a time-consuming and costly logistical challenge in the past, it no longer is. Once the drafting is complete, sending digital reference copies to 52 mailboxes is a very finite task. So is notifying the public. The Clerk’s activities are governed by the Standing Orders in important ways, but that doesn’t mean his responsibilities end there. Ultimately, he serves the public, not just Parliament. He has a responsibility to ensure access to bills, motions—any document that crosses the order table—with the public. He should do so in as timely, cost-effective and efficient a manner as possible.
These days, that means tossing them up onto a website. It’s really not complicated. But because that has yet to happen, the Daily Post is happy to do its part, and to share the bills on our website. The online version of this article will have links to all bills currently available. The Daily Digester is offering copies for download from its website as well. To be fair, Parliament cooperates well with PacLII in ensuring that laws, orders and regulations make it up onto the Pacific pre-eminent legal resource. But laws only get there once they’ve been passed. There is no authoritative resource for the laws we most need to discuss: the ones that Parliament has yet to vote on.
That has to change.
IMPORTANT NOTE: These are NOT official copies. They were received through informal channels and cannot be considered canonical or authoritative. We believe that they are a fair representation of the materials to be voted on in Parliament, but they are subject to change. Likewise, the list is incomplete. The Clerk has yet to distribute the second tranche of bills. We will post them online as soon as we obtain them.