Is Jacinda Ardern's Government open and transparent? 'My overall answer would be no' - political pundit

Thomas and Ardern.
Ben Thomas and Jacinda Ardern. Photo credit: Reuters/Newshub Nation.

A political pundit says overall, the current Labour Government isn't open and transparent - despite portraying itself as being so.

Political commentator Ben Thomas' comments come after a Radio New Zealand report earlier this week revealed that despite the Government saying before election 2020 it wouldn't give mining giant Rio Tinto a subsidy to prevent its Tiwai Point smelter from closing, it offered to cough up millions of dollars just months later. 

"We have said we do not believe we should be giving a direct government subsidy to Rio Tinto, so that's not what we will be doing," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said last year. 

Thomas, a PR consultant and former National Party press secretary, told Magic Talk's Sunday Cafe transparency within Governments has been on the decline.

"My overall answer would be no," said Thomas, when asked by host Mel Homer if the current Government was open and transparent. 

"It's been a slow winding back of that transparency and each Government is worse than the one before."

He added the Government had been very good at not giving in to Rio Tinto. The company had received hundreds of millions of dollars in direct and indirect Government subsidies over the years, including a $30 million bailout under former Prime Minister Sir John Key.

Despite receiving that money, Rio Tinto announced plans to shut up shop last year at its Tiwai Peninsula facility, New Zealand's only aluminium smelter, because of high energy costs - but later reached a four-year agreement with Meridian Energy to keep it open until at least the end of 2024. 

In defence of the current Government, Thomas said Rio Tinto's impending exit from Southland was a complex one. 

"It really is a tricky commercial negotiation with some very hard-headed overseas owners and the Government is going to have to get into the nitty-gritty of arguing, negotiating and making offers on each clause here - that's just the reality."

Appearing on Magic Talk with Thomas, Labour MP Shanan Halbert said the leadership "I see in front of me" under Ardern is "one of transparency".

"She encourages… to be as responsive, to be as open - to ensure that the information is provided as it comes along.

"We've got a number of projects that are up in the air at the moment… in that, there does become communication challenges but there's a reason why our Prime Minister is one of the most trusted politicians in the world in a difficult political climate."

Last month, Stuff senior political journalist Andrea Vance described the Government as "one of the most thin-skinned and secretive I have experienced".