Active Citizenship and Partnership
It is quite often the public are surprised by huge changes that happen, there is some social movement or technology, biotechnology that happens externally, government takes it quickly and the wider public don't hear about it until it is a problem. E.g. facial recognition technology. There was never consultation by the government or police, they put together a bid for an all government contract for it. The same thing has happened with big data. Also happening with gender ideology. There is very little consultation. New ideas arise, and, before you know it, they have been implemented into public policy as the way that the government operates.
We need a way of future casting. Some of these big issues need to get a hearing by the public. I was impressed by the idea of a citizens assembly or jury as a means of doing that. There is no point doing it at the committee stage, there's no point doing it at the stage before that. These are big global issues that cut across multiple government departments.
There is a lack of public involvement with big decisions like housing, tax, tenancy. We find there is a big disparity from how easy it is for people to participate between different consultation processes.
For some laws proposed, the consultations are user-friendly with people guided through a discussion document written in plain English. Or there is an online survey where they are asking pointed questions, and oftentimes it is a simple text answer or multichoice answer. We help our members participate in other parts of legislation, where literally, people are given a 200 page, often tax documents, which most people cannot understand. And having a very short time frame to go through that. It’s not user friendly. Things like that make people, in my experience, feel that the invitation for them to be part of the process is in question.
User-friendly consultation needed that makes it easy for people to engage, and engage early and comprehensively.
I've been impressed by what I've heard about collaborative budgeting. How it can shift the dialogue. For example a local government in the UK did a consultative exercise, where they proposed 15%, 20% rate increases, and after a series of workshops people were happy for a 25% rate increase, because they heard what it would give them. Something similar has happened in Christchurch, to maintain a lot of public services within public control, after the earthquake. There was an intention to sell off a lot of the public infrastructure, which didn't happen, because there was good consultation.
With deaf people, there are quite a lot of barriers. One is around accessible communication. This can be anything from needing to have information in plain English for people with learning disabilities, access to sign language interpreters, access to transcribers, to accessible documents for people using screen readers. There is a whole package of things that need to be thought about.
Communication is only the start of the process for engaging disabled people, for many of us transport is a significant barrier, getting to a workshop can be a major barrier for us.
The other major barrier is about the digital divide that exists in New Zealand. We saw during the lockdown, then the pandemic, access to the internet, access to websites and access to, increasingly, a very wide range of services, primarily government services, was through the internet. Disabled people are less likely to have access to the internet even if we do, we might not have accessible devices, or if we do, the website might not be navigable. There are many barriers to digital access, which is often the first point of contact across government.
Ask how would disabled people be included in the initiative? because we are the group that are less likely to be engaging and actually have among the lowest levels of trust in the government and there have been statistics come out by Stats NZ showing typically there is a significant proportion of disabled people with low levels of trust.
The all of government website has a place for consultation and it is something like get involved, www.govt.nz but for the lower level of consultation, not the legislative consultation, very little of it actually makes its way to that location and the downside of that is that the NGO, non-government organisation sector and other civil society professional organisations have to spend an inordinate amount of time finding out what government is doing and it would be the simplest matter in the world to make the use of that consultation site. Make it mandatory for government agencies when undertaking consultation.
There is a thing called exposure drafts when generating legislation and they tend to get circulated around the favourites. They could very easily be made more available beyond a trusted few but mainly the issue is NGOs that have very little money are spending huge amounts of their capacity on finding out what is going on rather than responding to what is going on.
Earlier this year the government announced that it would do a consultation into pharma procurement processes, regarding changing to multiple sources for medicines. I have resorted to setting up a Google search for pharmacological consultation. Nothing so far but may missed it. Consultations should be in a central location and well promoted, press releases etc. The pharma consultation didn't give any indication where you could follow-up just that it was going to happen at some point.
We are expecting the last phase of the tenancy act amendment to come through in August. One of the changes is to facilitate victims of family violence to quickly exit from a rental property for their safety which we are totally on board with, but we didn't even know that there was a consultation carried out by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment to help finalise the regulations. Agree in principle but wanted to input on procedural issues. We don’t know about consultation and then find out that the people who got involved are really not considered in the industry as spokespeople for the industry.
Also found out they have completely misrepresented our members' feelings and values on the issue, which is a difficult pill to swallow and all we can do is wait for the legislation to come out which will have an impact not only on our members but also their tenants.
Tried to take part in UN Universal Periodic Review. It was abysmal, I spent the best part of the day trying to find out how to contribute.
I am very impressed with South Taranaki District Council. It is a small, rural area. They have community hubs in each of the small settlements there. The libraries are places where you can talk about all different aspects of council services.
In rural areas, there is a thing run by the Ministry of Social Development, which are a kind of community hub. It’s sensible that local and central government are aligned at service points. Websites are fantastic for things that need to happen 100,000 times. But, quite often, people's interaction with government are individual. They need healthcare. Or advice to set up a business. And that is when face-to-face discussion is best to happen. We have erred much on the side of electronic delivery, rather than deciding that some things need person-to-person. Obviously medicine, but there would be other complex issues as well that are best handled in a conversation, rather than filling in a form.
Look at report by Citizen's Advice Bureau on digital exclusion and how increasingly, government services are more accessible online, but there is a whole cohort of people who are struggling to engage with government in a way which is primarily digital. They are struggling to get any face-to-face person to talk through something, or understand something, or access support. We just submitted the petition to Parliament on the back of that support. A couple of weeks ago.
Just one thing which is important around the digital area. Keeping yourself safe online. A lot of people have access in some form or other, but they are going to be much more vulnerable to being hacked, or a virus, or something like that. Because they are not confident that they know how to keep themselves safe online. I have seen, starting up, and awareness that this is an area to interact in. One-on-one support is needed to show you how to do your internet banking. Lots of elderly people who have cheque-books for everything, including my mother, don't know how to do internet banking. They have a device, they have internet access, but they don't know how to do internet banking. Requires one-on-one support to get them through the process.
Transparency and Accountability
An issue we find challenging is the tendency for iterations of Parliament to use the urgency motion to pass laws, and therefore bypass the usual committee process. But, in addition to that, because the public tends to have less notice in terms of reviewing the paper from parliaments, and the business for the day, when a motion is passed on urgency, there is hardly any time for an organisation like ours to pivot ourselves, and try to tell members what is going on that day or week, with a piece of legislation being passed that will affect them.
When we go to ministers or their officers, and say, "You are passing legislation under urgency, it will not be consulted, it will not go through a committee review, we know New Zealand politicians vote along party lines, we know you will have enough votes, but we would like to understand your reason for passing it under urgency?” Particularly on issues where the end result of the law itself is not always urgent or doesn't always address the urgent issue. Every time we have done that in the last four years, we have never received a reply from the Minister's office until months after the law had already been passed. I understand the workload, but for issues passed under urgency it would be good if there was more transparency around why the party is pushing it under urgency, and more responsiveness when non-profit organisation community groups are trying to have an understanding of decisions that would affect their members.
I don't think transparency and accountability is a concrete goal to aim for. I think it is an enabler of other things. My experience in other countries and jurisdictions is, where reforms have transparency and accountability as their objective, they are not always as impactful as those which use them as an enabler to something else as a way of solving the problem. My interest is around public procurement and contracting That is very much about making a transparent and accountable process, but the benefits that derive from that can accrue in many different ways to engage with stakeholders. Whether that is businesses, how they can identify opportunities to contact government, know they are on a level playing field, whether it is citizens – there is assurance that money is spent efficiently, there is opportunity for inefficiency to be spotted and addressed. And identifying and preventing fraud and corruption, while not as readily apparent in New Zealand as it might be in other places in the world, it is still something we must be mindful of.
That is the context as to why I think we should be having something in the National Action Plan around public contracting. The previous National Action Plan, there was quite limited commitment to publish some of the data available publicly, as an Excel spreadsheet, basically. It is good to see that that is there, and it has been achieved, but there are lots of limitations, the data is very poor quality, because of the information agencies are inputting. And it is narrow in scope. We heard a lot about the decision that was reached, but not about the process as to how it was reached, and the contracting process that led to the report.
Improve the quality of the procurement data that is there. Working with agencies to make sure they are putting in the information that should be putting in and there is the carrot and stick approach to that, require them and there is training and support as well. In terms of improving the scope of what is disclosed I think there should be something more ambitious to look at what other systems contracting is taking place through. A lot of procurement takes place through panel contracts which are effectively non-transparent, we need to surface that alongside the open processes taking place through.
Consultation processes that are carried out by government don't build on the expectation that they are going to be accessible. When they budget for it, they haven't built in that maybe some of them will have to have live captioning or accessible means of engagement, so that when someone like me comes along, they say, "OK, I see you have this webinar. Can you provide live transcribing?" Nearly every time the people involved in organising don't know how to do it, don't know who to contact and some have even said to me, "I will have to go and check if we have the budget for that." Just simply they haven't normalised it as part of engagement or this is the way we do things. Accessibility needs to be seen as business as usual and across all the consultation processes. There are different ways of doing it, but it requires thought right at the start when designing consultation and the cost implications.
Interested in a project to investigate when it is not necessary to tender and I note that some of New Zealand's biggest companies actually got into business, Glide Path, Carter Holt, the big forest companies, housing companies did not contract during the Second World War, they just built houses. There is a wonderful PhD by a woman called Pat Webster who talks about the downsides to contracting across the social sector and the way that it has all sorts of perverse drivers. Research needed that looks at that and works out where the limits are, why things are contracted when it actually creates turbulence across the social sector.
Grant making. Plunket right through until the 70s and 80s would report back to government on what the local needs were and government would make grants based on the need and Plunket themselves would actually prioritise what they felt was important across the country. They were a very powerful organisation in some ways. Instead of having a tendering process where you look at one NGO and two commercial companies, you decide your NGO is close to the people and so long as it operates well and transparently to a good quality, you make the grants to civil society organisations. So by contracting, you end up with turbulence, like when Plunket lost its contract, all of a sudden all its capability was lost, its staff, all its institutional knowledge, was handed over to a private company and that company then had to gear up. Ultimately, there are some things about the public sector which are incredibly wasteful if you always have to go out to contract.
Losing contracts results in massive turbulence for people receiving the services. We have seen this actually play out time and time again where a contract to a major service provider has been withdrawn, given to someone else and then the new company comes in and doesn't provide the same good service.
I have been pleased to see that there is some government recognition realising the need for sustainability with funding and the need to not be so competitive in getting the funding. Competitiveness is not always a good thing.
I guess just to build on Jan's point, firstly I agree that introducing the private sector into competition with non-private-sector providers of social and public services certainly isn't always the right thing to do, but I would say in terms of grant making, I think it is also useful to maintain a similar degree of transparency around the decision-making processes and where the grants are going, if only so that other grant making organisations can identify who is receiving funds and who is not so we don't end up in a scenario where everyone is from one organisation, one area, one type of need and no one knows what is going on.
The Ministry of Health provides masses of data on people who have gender reassignment surgery. You can find out who has had the operations, how much it costs, where it has been held, what the waiting list is like, but the same doesn't apply to kids who are at the start of the gender transition journey. No information, no statistics kept, only one project in 2018. DHBs are not required to report. A lot of prescribing in any case takes place in youth clinics, but there is a problem here, the number of young kids transitioning has gone up stratospherically, went up 20 times over 10 years, so 120 kids being prescribed puberty blockers every year in the Wellington region and you can extrapolate across the country but we have absolutely no idea. The Ministry of Health should do exactly what it does for adult transgender people. My suspicion is that there is a mass of overprescribing and if you look at the research, it seems to be to claim a transgender identity often occurs as a result of trauma, as a result of homophobia, as the result of autism and as a result of social contagion. The research is becoming clearer that those are often motivating factors behind the claiming of a transgender or non-binary identity and it seems to me we have health crisis and we need data about that health crisis.
In regards to publishing gender transition data, be mindful of privacy and I am mindful with the abortion debate there was a huge push for a greater breakdown, why are people being allowed to have abortion? That actually cut right across what was essentially a decision between the woman and provider. In the interest of transparency, we still have to remember that privacy is enormously important and so data has to be done in a way that protects privacy, that is not going to be hurtful or damaging.
Remind people about the convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities that New Zealand has signed. The convention says that disabled people have equal rights to participate in society as everyone else. The government agencies have an obligation to provide disabled people. There has been improvement over the last few years, but there is a lot more that could still be done with policy advisers, with the Disabled People's Assembly, it always helps when someone in government recognises that they can proactively contact us and say, "Hey, we have this consultation running, we would like to have your input and the voices of disabled people heard in this process." Rather than us finding out that there is some consultation process going on somewhere, that is relevant for us.
Beneficial ownership of private companies could put in a beneficial ownership register. National Action Plan is a useful way to keep that on its agenda. It becomes important, really, to understand where the money we were paying our taxes is going. Is it going offshore, staying in New Zealand, going to companies that are evading tax, or into more nefarious criminal schemes?
In Australia's current National Action Plan, things have become very un-concrete. In previous National Action Plan's, there were achievable concrete products at the end of them. Public register of beneficial ownership is something that could be achieved as opposed to a policy investigation into possibilities. It is incumbent on all countries to get on board with that, because it only really works when it reaches critical mass of the same data being available in different countries so you can follow chains of ownership. It would be not a good look for New Zealand to be a black hole of corporate ownership, from other countries understanding where the money in their economies is flowing, and being stopped because there is no transparency in New Zealand for corporate ownership.
With beneficial ownership, the idea of declaring, ultimately, who controls and benefits from a company, so often one company can be a subsidiary of another one, or shares of one could be owned by another company, and that is a mechanism that is used to disguise, ultimately, where the money flows to, and who is paying taxes. You see it a lot in big tech firms, with them putting money through subsidiaries. Need transparency around those chains of which company owns which company, and which individual benefits from that at the top of the chain.
A small organisation called The Equality Network closed down this year. Not because equality has reduced, but because it did not have capacity at the centre to provide policy people to consolidate the information coming from the sector that is interested in poverty and inequality. It struck me that it would benefit government to have such an organisation and it would certainly benefit the sector. How does the government go about collecting information from the poverty and inequality sector if it engages with child poverty action group, Salvation Army, Presbyterians social services, unions etc. This detracts from the ability of the sector themselves to come to common positions. They are each banging the drums, rather than prioritising what would be some really important and useful initiatives. What would benefit NZ? There are NGOs that operate under broad themes that that would apply to.
With state-sponsored civil society organisations there is a dilemma in there. There are a few quangos in New Zealand, and ones that have been defunded - there is a weakness in the non-governmental noncorporate sector. The Pat Webster’s PhD talks about civil society as a provider of sector advice and guidance. There are opportunities for government to provide funding specifically for that. What about the details? That’s what the research would be. What would be a fair way of providing a role to provide sector advice and guidance?