ZB

Nadine Higgins: Fisheries smack down a win for openness

Author
Nadine Higgins,
Publish Date
Fri, 19 Jan 2018, 8:14am
It was images like this that the fishing industry wanted to hide. (Photo / Supplied)

Nadine Higgins: Fisheries smack down a win for openness

Author
Nadine Higgins,
Publish Date
Fri, 19 Jan 2018, 8:14am

There’s been a win for openness and transparency this week - and the significance of that can’t be underestimated in the era of Trump, fake news and newsrooms weakened by the decline in advertising revenues.

The Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash has rejected the fishing industry’s attempt to exempt footage gathered on boats from the Official Information Act. That is, they wanted to prevent whatever is on those tapes from ever being made public. 

The background to this is that the Government is currently considering whether or not to install cameras across the entire fleet of commercial fishing boats to monitor illegal activities and dolphins and seals and penguins getting caught in nets. 

But in a plea that stank worse than week-old fish, the industry argued that those tapes should remain secret because of the risk that ‘judicious editing of the available footage could be used to portray a situation that is entirely out of context’.

They tried another couple of tactics too - that it would breach the privacy of fishers who get changed on boats and that it could reveal secret fishing spots to competitors. That was a smoke screen, of course. Basically, they were concerned that they end up looking bad if what the cameras captured was released.

Yesterday, The Minister said no.

It was a pretty quick turnaround on this. On Tuesday, the Ministry said no decision had been made. Despite the letter being sent in July last year, they said they had to balance transparency with privacy and other concerns.

Two days later the Minister said: "I don't think covering information up is the best way to go forward". Ya think?! 

The Official Information Act already has provisions to protect privacy and commercially sensitive information - if you’ve ever seen a response to a request it’s common for plenty of it to be blacked out. So all that's left is a fear of being exposed - and THAT'S WHAT IT'S FOR.

The Act is vitally important to ensure open and transparent government. Any New Zealander can make a request to see official information..  we elect the Government and pay the officials soothing should be cloak and dagger and shrouded in secrecy unless there's a compelling reason - like national security or privacy. Otherwise, we deserve to know what’s going on - and sunlight is an excellent disinfectant.

I’d like to think whichever flavour Government we have in power would vigorously defend that right, but I dunno - sometimes I wonder if it depends on who is asking. 

The old axiom that if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear surely applies here. The Fishing Industry would do well to focus more on actually making the industry cleaner and more sustainable, rather than worrying about just making us think that it is.