Official Information Act: Current review

Liz Brown
Member with Delegated Authority
Financial Integrity System Assessment, Local Government, National Integrity Assessment Programme

Liz Brown

TINZ Member with Delegated Authority for

New Zealand’s National Integrity System

Need for reform?

The Minister of Justice, Hon. Andrew Little, recently sought engagement of experts and practitioners familiar with the Official Information Act (OIA) 1982.  This wasn’t a full review, but an opportunity to comment on whether a formal review was needed.  The consultation asked what the key issues are with the OIA; whether these issues are related to legislation or practice; and what reforms to the legislation would make the most difference.

The need, in part, for inviting submissions stems from OIA operational statistics  reported in the April issue Transparency Times. 

This engagement comprises the initial implementation of ‘Commitment 7: Official Information’ within the Government’s Open Government Partnership National Action Plan (OGP-NAP) 2018-2020 (refer to sidebar).

A major existing resource is the TINZ National Integrity Systems Assessment (NIS) 2013 and subsequent updating that is due for release this month. This meant that TINZ was well equipped to respond.

Submission summary

In summary TINZ’s main comments are that:

  1. The 2012 Law Commission report is as relevant now as it was then and its recommendations should be implemented 
  2. The scope of the Act should broaden, including Officers of Parliament and Parliamentary Services.
  3. Adherence to the spirit of the OIA is variable, but has improved over the last five years. 
  4. There remains opaqueness around public funding provided to political parties
  5. The OIA should, apply to all information held by organisations in receipt of public funds. This would require an explicit principle about the sort of organisations covered by the Act.  Over time there has been a blurring of types of government entities. But it seems obvious to TINZ that the OIA should cover all use of public funds inclusive of local government.
    For example, if a privately-owned organisation is operating on public funding, then it should be subject to the same transparency regime as a publicly owned one, at least for its publicly funded activities)
  6. TINZ also wants to see improved oversight, greater sanctions for delays, and an initial triage process for information requests. Essentially an organisation should ask itself, not “is this an OIA request?” but “do we have any concerns about releasing this information?”. If the answer is “no”, then the information can be released. If it is “yes”, then it should get referred to someone with knowledge of the OIA to decide whether any of the withholding reasons apply.

Key reforms

Overall, the most significant reform identified in the TINZ submission is to clarify the principles of coverage. This would result in an extension of the coverage of the OIA to include:

  • all agencies in receipt of public funding (in respect of their publicly funded activities)
  • the administration of Parliament and officers of Parliament
  • public money provided to political parties.

TINZ submission to The Official Information Act Review Questions April 2019.

 

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