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Government legislation anti-democratic

Richard Worth MP

National Party Justice Spokesman

21 April 2004

Government legislation anti-democratic

The Government's intention to conceal its activities through legislation that undermines Parliament's responsibilities represents a serious threat to New Zealand's democratic process, says National's Justice Spokesman Richard Worth.

"The provisions of the Public Finance (State Sector Management) Bill are more characteristic of an authoritarian administration than that of a country which prides itself on its democratic freedoms.

"The Government must carry responsibility for this attack on our fundamental freedoms. It cannot say that it brought this Bill to Parliament without knowing the full implications. An admission that it was not fully appreciative of the impact the Bill can have on Parliament's ability to scrutinise public sector activities would amount to an admission of incompetence.

"When matters reach a stage where the Clerk of the House has to warn that a Bill would erode MP's rights to get information from Government departments and Crown entities, it is time for the media, the Law Society and civil rights groups to question this Government's motives.

"It is rare for the Clerk to be so outspoken on a Government Bill. This in itself should be sufficient to ring alarm bells in all sections of the community.

"Parliament has this session been confronted regularly with evasive tactics by Ministers when questioned about the spending and day-to-day activities of their departments and agencies. Legislative efforts to give them further justification for evading questions are completely unacceptable."

Mr Worth says the Bill allows departments to withhold from Parliament information that could properly be withheld from media under the Official Information Act.

"The Clerk called this a serious danger to parliamentary accountability. I agree with him. It cannot be tolerated. The Government's move to enshrine in law further controls on public information flows is outrageous. Parliament must not be shackled in its ability to hold the Government to account for the activities of the public service," Mr Worth says.

Ends

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