Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Lindsay Mitchell: Treasury releasing OIA request responses - all govt depts should follow suit

Announced yesterday:
The Treasury is trialling the publication of its responses to selected Official Information Act (OIA) requests. 
Responses to selected OIA requests received by the Treasury are published here soon after the requestor has received their response from the Treasury. The reply letter from the Treasury to the requestor explains what information, if any, has been withheld under the OIA and under which grounds. The requestor's name and address have been removed.
This is a great idea. It is so good it should be compulsory for all departments.

Here is an example of a released request made in April 2015 for:

Any information or modelling regarding the burden of GST on households by income quintile; and • Any information or modelling regarding the burden of excise taxes on households by income quintile.

Interesting. The GST burden on the lowest decile is considerably higher (especially compared to the next two bands) than I'd have thought given their limited incomes. Their expenditure on tobacco must be a big factor. A breakdown between tobacco, alcohol and fuel duties would be even more interesting.

The richest decile pays 214% more in GST than the poorest, but only 55% more on tobacco, alcohol and fuel duties.

Many poverty scholars believe income is not the best way to measure it; that expenditure should also feature. David Green dedicated a lengthy section to this subject in "Poverty in New Zealand" writing

"It is widely known that the preferred measure of poverty throughout Europe is household expenditure not income. Initially it sounds odd that measures of expenditure and income would produce radically different results, but this has been the consistent finding of surveys conducted since the 1950s throughout Europe." Green finds that debt isn't the reason, but under-reporting of income is.

(My reflection) The lowest income decile may be significant players in the black market.

Green continues, " New Zealand, only 45.6% of households in the lowest income decile are also in the lowest expenditure decile, and that 10 percent of household's in NZ's lowest income decile are in the top three expenditure deciles," Quite believable based on the above table.

If poverty was measured by expenditure rather than income, the gaps would close up or even disappear. For instance the expenditure (before housing costs) of the third lowest income decile would make them the poorest.

Back to the point of the post. I wonder what the thinking is by Treasury. That by making request responses public they will generate fewer or more? Perhaps I should request any information relating to this decision...

Update: Eric Crampton has made some further comments about the incomes in the lowest decile  at his blog, Offsetting Behaviour

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