With all the fuss about fracking and housing, Phil can be forgiven if he has become scratchy

Alf’s good mate Phil Heatley, back in Opposition days, enjoyed watching Chris Carter wriggle at Question Time in Parliament. Alf enjoyed watching him wriggle, too.

Carter, you might recall, was Housing Minister before he came unglued within the Labour Party hierarchy.

And on more than one occasion our Phil had the bugger on the back foot – for example, when he asked how come a person could be allocated a State house in Māngere while owning a holiday home in Russell.

If you are going to dish it out in Opposition, you have to be able to take it in government, of course.

And when he became Minister of Housing, it looked like Phil was a feller who did not mind hard questioning.

Alf recalls him visiting an outfit called the New Zealand Housing Options Trust and other representatives from the Recovery Solutions Group Trust in June last year.

His hosts were laudatory.

Clive Plucknett, CEO of The Recovery Solutions Group Trust (RSG), described the Minister’s visit as an enjoyable success. He said that he had seen the Minister in various forums where he had presented professionally, however he was impressed with the ability of the Minister to connect with people on a personal level. The Minister answered questions openly and used humour to good effect.

Alf is therefore astonished to learn from one of the scribes at Newsroom that Heatley has become somewhat scratchy.

He is reported to have bridled at his Labour opposite making too many requests under the Official Information Act.

Mrs Grumble has done a quick search to see if the story has been reported elsewhere.

She could not find any other mentions of the matter.

This is curious, because – having some inkling of Annette King’s flair for kicking up a fuss – Alf would have thought the story would be broadcast more widely.

Newsroom is a subscription-only outfit, and Alf normally would have been oblivious to King’s experience.

It so happens he was given this item by one of their subscribers, a stroppy bugger who was trying to accuse we Nats of being a sad failure in the accountability department.

Fair to say, the Labour-loving layabout who passed this on may well have fabricated the contents, to make it look like the real thing.

But for what it’s worth, it says Labour’s housing spokesperson, Annette King, is accusing Phil of hypocrisy after he told her the 22 requests for information she’d made since February were interfering with work on the Government’s social housing reforms.

Mr Heatley wrote to Ms King on Monday complaining that the Department of Building and Housing had had to hire a contractor to deal with the workload.

He gave her a week to prioritise the requests.

Ms King refused his “high handed” request, writing back to remind Mr Heatley of the OIA’s importance to democracy and telling him to adequately fund his department so it can cope with OIA requests.

He gave her a week to prioritise the requests.

Ms King refused his “high handed” request, writing back to remind Mr Heatley of the OIA’s importance to democracy and telling him to adequately fund his department so it can cope with OIA requests.

“I found your letter hypocritical considering I faced and managed a barrage of OIA requests when your party was in opposition,” replied Ms King, who is a former health and police minister. “Never did your party consider the cost or work for my officials.”

Her requests have sought cabinet papers, briefings and advice related to National’s plans for social housing, including the establishment of a social housing unit designed to support community groups providing housing, and guidelines for repairing earthquake-damaged houses in Canterbury.

Ms King told Newsroom she did not consider the requests excessive and she had never known of a minister to object to OIA requests in such a way, especially when the system allowed for time extensions for responses.

Mr Heatley would not respond publicly to her objections today but a spokesperson noted that a request for priorities is among the guidance available from the Ombudsmen’s Office.

Newsroom notes that it is not the first time Opposition requests for information have irritated Mr Heatley.

In July 2010 he labelled it excessive and time consuming for staff when senior Labour MP Trevor Mallard bombarded his office with 3500 written parliamentary questions in a week relating to specific state-house occupancy rates.

Alf is bound to say he regards 3500 written parliamentary questions as a bit over the top, too.

While someone is busy writing that many questions, obviously a great deal of more worthwhile work is not being done.

On that occasion Phil had good cause to complain.

But 22 is a much more manageable number, surely.

Presumably Phil was having a bad day, which is understandable given the pressure the poor bugger is under in more than one portfolio, such as the protests in Tamaki over a major state housing redevelopment, greenies railing against fracking and what-have-you.

But – are you listening, Boss? – the phlegmatic Alf would take all that in his stride, were he given the portfolios.

UPDATE – Maybe the Grumbles did not look hard enough. Radio NZ has reported on this matter, too.

Labour Party MP Annette King says it is high handed of the Minister of Housing to say her requests for information are interfering with his department’s operations.

Ms King, Labour’s housing spokesperson, has received a letter from Mr Heatley asking her to prioritise her requests for official information.

This report points out that the Government has 20 working days to respond to an OIA request, but it can ask for an extension.

It also quotes Ms King as saying it is her job to find out what is going on in the department on behalf of the public. She says the sharing of information is an important part of a democracy.

But Phil says her 22 requests for official information since the beginning of February are interfering with the department’s operations.

It could be they need more staff to cope, but we Nats are trying to get rid of public servants, not hire more of the buggers

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