Royal tour: why the delay in cost data?

03:01, Nov 12 2012

The spin doctors at Prince Charles' private office have been on the phone this morning to ''correct'' any suggestion that we, the New Zealand taxpayers, pay for Camilla's hair-do or the salary of the hairdresser. 

Apparently we only pay for the hairdresser to fly here, be ferried around the country and for any accommodation - along with the same ''in country'' costs of the rest his extensive entourage.

John Key this morning confirmed this, and said the costs of the trip would be released only after the six-day tour was over.

Now why is that? Because costs are not known? Unlikely at least in a ball-park sense.

Or is it because to release the cost in advance of the trip would be rude to the guests? Maybe, though we would not be as sensitive if it was an elected minister, for instance.

Or would it spark too much controversy maybe? Get all those republicans up in arms questioning whether the trip - and by extension the monarchy - was worth retaining?

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Whatever the reason, there is no doubt that the whole issue of costs and arrangements for the royals' visit is considered highly sensitive - and that goes way beyond the protection of the privacy of the royals.

After a tipoff earlier this year that ''Clarence House'' - the name used to denote Charles' office - had asked for a private charter rather than airforce planes to ferry him around, I put in an Official Information Act request in May to the Department of Internal Affairs for information around the trip.

The main stumbling block to that was that under OIA s9(2)(f)(i) information can be withheld to ''maintain the constitutional conventions for the time being which protect ...the confidentiality of communications by or with the Sovereign or her representative''.

Now, you can see why the law drafters considered that some things might need to be confidential, but surely not everything? And what about the public interest?

After an appeal to the Ombudsman, and a request by that office for the DIA to supply the information, the DIA explained that there was a lot of correspondence within the scope of my request, much of which was electronic, and since the DIA was treating it as a whole ... the message was clear. I could expect big delays.

By now it was the end of September and despite some helpful advice from the Ombudsman on refreshing the request and splitting it into smaller parts, it all seemed a bit academic, given the 20-working-day rule for an answer and the possibility of an extension once the clock started ticking again.

It seems we will only know what Key is prepared to tell us about the cost of the trip once it is all over - well after the horse has bolted.