Tuesday 11 August 2015

Open OIA

Lindsay Mitchell points to some new practice at Treasury: they'll be posting their responses to some Official Information Act requests on their website for everybody, rather than just to the sender, soon after the person making the request gets the information from Treasury.

On the one hand, this is great for open data. Some people already choose to run their OIA requests this way, using FYI, which posts responses to OIAs for those who want the replies to be open.

On the other, OIAs are a bit like gold prospecting. It can take a while to figure out where the paydirt is. The returns to prospecting drop if everybody gets a copy of the treasure map when somebody makes the right request. It shouldn't be an issue if "soon after" means a couple of days. But if it means a couple of hours, it could be.

Lindsay posts one of the OIA results at her blog: GST and excise paid by income decile. Interestingly, the bottom income decile pays more GST than the 2nd and 3rd deciles, and more excise (petrol, alcohol and tobacco) than the 3rd and 4th deciles.

This points to one of the longstanding problems with the bottom decile - nobody much trusts that income in the bottom income decile really reflects anything real. Sole traders with highly variable earnings can be caught in it, for example. That GST paid by those in the bottom decile outstrips GST paid in the next two deciles suggests that there's a fair bit of income smoothing going on. That excise in the bottom and second deciles tops that in the third and fourth points a bit to smoothing but also perhaps to the fairly regressive nature of alcohol and tobacco taxes.

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