Proactive disclosure in New Zealand

Áine Kelly Costello

Áine Kelly-Costello with her Flute

Áine is a University of Auckland student in her final year of a conjoint degree majoring in English, Spanish and Classical Flute Performance. She enjoys jam sessions and quality catch-ups.

She campaigns actively to urge the University to divest its money from the fossil fuel industry. She is a member of Blind Citizens New Zealand. Last semester Áine was an intern with TINZ.

by Áine Kelly-Costello

In New Zealand we want to establish the most useful mechanisms to ensure agencies proactively publish as much information as is feasible. This is to satisfy public demand for transparency and increase public trust of authority.

There appears to be a broad consensus on this logic from various interested parties, such as:

  • Transparency International New Zealand;
  • New Zealand Law Commission 2012 Review [1];
  • Report by former Chief Ombudsman Dame Beverley Wakem [2]; and
  • Correspondence from current Chief Ombudsman Judge Peter Boshier.

When considering how to increase proactive disclosure in our country, it is sensible to consider which steps have already been taken by other countries and what we can learn from them.

I have researched Spain's Transparency Act; reviewed the Act's broad scope and the key areas covered within it. My report, Proactive Disclosure in New Zealand - What New Zealand can learn from the introduction of proactive disclosure in Spain, analyses what New Zealand can learn from Spain, and establishes key recommendations concerning the introduction of legislation and other forms of regulation in New Zealand.

Three key recommendations for introducing proactive disclosure legislation in New Zealand emerge as a direct result of examining the Spanish Act.

  1. Compliance with proactive disclosure legislation must be enforceable and realistic.
  2. The legislation must have at its core both the interests of the public and the interests of all affected entities.
  3. Proactively disclosed information must be easy to locate and user-friendly for everyone.

New Zealand has a long way to go before we might realistically see well-thought-through legislation being passed in Parliament. In the shorter term, the following steps reflect more manageable aims:

  • Officially clarify the roles of the Ombudsman, the State Services Commission and the Ministry of Justice with regards to monitoring of the OIA, proactive disclosure of information and the implementation of the Open Government Partnership National Action Plan.
  • Prepare guidelines which outline best practice for proactive disclosure of information. These should include a clear statement of rationale for disclosure efforts, and a non-exhaustive listing of the types of information. It is highly recommended for agencies to disclose at a minimum, and reference to the need for balancing the public interest against the feasibility of proactively publishing the information. Upon release of such guides, all affected agencies should be made aware of their existence, and in particular, the benefits of following them.
  • Consider giving the public optimal access to information as a crucial pillar of transparency and accountability, and work to integrate clearer demands and guidelines for these into the forthcoming Open Government Partnership National Action Plan
  • Consider the potential utility of lobbying MPs to put transparency, particularly with regards to access to information, at the forefront of the nexy election campaign.

External references:

1. Law Commission, 'Review of Official Information Act Legislation' (2012) at 252. See:  http://www.lawcom.govt.nz/sites/default/files/projectAvailableFormats/NZLC%20R125.pdf

2. Office of the Ombudsman, 'Not a Game of Hide and Seek', Report of Chief Ombudsman Dame Beverley Wakem DNZM, CBE (December 2015), at 7 and 84. See:  http://www.ombudsman.parliament.nz/ckeditor_assets/attachments/401/oia_report_not_a_game_of_hide_and_seek.pdf?1449533878

3. Proactive Disclosure in New Zealand - What New Zealand can learn from the introduction of proactive disclosure in Spainin pdf format, in docx format.

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