The OIA review

July 26th, 2012 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Law Commission has done its final report reviewing the Official Information Act. Scores of recommendations. Some key ones are:

  • A new ground for withholding information, if disclosure would prejudice a statutory inquiry, but only while the inquiry has not concluded
  • A new provision in the OIA and LGOIMA should state that requests may be made in any form (in hard copy, electronically, or orally)
  • A new provision in the OIA and LGOIMA should place a duty on agencies to take all reasonably practicable steps to proactively make official information publicly available

That last one is huge, and one I have advocated for some years. The OIA is a very good act, bu you often don’t know what you don’t know! Having certain types of information released proactively would be a huge boost for open government.

  • The Offices of Parliament (the Ombudsmen, the Office of the Controller and Auditor-General and the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment) should be subject to the OIA
  • Information relating to any audit, assurance work, inquiry or investigation undertaken by an Office of Parliament should be excluded from the definition of “official information” in section 2 of the OIA.
  • The Parliamentary Counsel Office should be subject to the OIA by inclusion in Schedule 1.
  • The Office of the Clerk of the House of Representatives and the Parliamentary Service should be subject to the OIA by inclusion in Schedule 1. 
  • The definition of “official information” in section 2 of the OIA should state that, in relation to these agencies, “official information” includes only statistical information about the agency’s activities; information about the agency’s expenditure of public money;information about the agency’s assets, resources, support systems, and other administrative matters.
  • The Speaker in his or her role as responsible Minister in relation to the Office of the Clerk and Parliamentary Service should be subject to the OIA by inclusion in Schedule 1
  • Section 2 of the OIA should state that “official information”, in relation to information held by a parliamentary agency, does not include any information held by a parliamentary agency solely as an agent for, or on behalf of, the House of Representatives or a Member of Parliament; or any information held by a parliamentary agency about a Member of Parliament in relation to the Member’s performance of his or her role and functions as a Member; or any information held by a parliamentary agency that relates to the development of political policies by a recognised party or an independent Member of Parliament.

I think their position on parliamentary agencies strikes a good balance. Bring them into the OIA, but restrict the coverage to the administration side of things. That way you can’t have (for example) people requesting draft policy papers, e-mails between MPs and the like. But it will ensure ongoing financial transparency. Good steps have been made under Key and Smith, but these could be revoked by a future PM and Speaker. An OIA requirement can not be.

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7 Responses to “The OIA review”

  1. Alan Wilkinson (1,886 comments) says:

    The blatantly overlooked elephant in the room is the complete lack of enforcement of the requirement to provide an adequate response within the statutory time limit.

    Fix that, and you fix 95% of the issues.

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  2. orewa1 (410 comments) says:

    Ironic that this gets released the same day that MPs are shamelessly and furtively scuttling behind closed doors to lobby for their self-interest around salaries and travel perks.

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  3. mikenmild (11,661 comments) says:

    Alan has nailed this: there are very few inadequacies in the law. Any problems with the OIA are the result of how it is used by officials and Ministers.

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  4. mikenmild (11,661 comments) says:

    As for one of the recommendations hailed above:
    ‘A new provision in the OIA and LGOIMA should place a duty on agencies to take all reasonably practicable steps to proactively make official information publicly available’
    The OIA already has a purpose to ‘increase progressively the availability of official information to the people of New Zealand’, and this is happening already, although it could use a systematic hurry up.

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  5. NeutralObserver (96 comments) says:

    I think the OIA is a great thing, but when political party research units and others use it simply as a fishing expedition for those gotcha moments, with no consideration of the staff, time and effort required to produce the answer with all the Privacy requirements added on, you can see why officials can get frustrated. The few ruin it for the many. Also in my experience all delays have been because the Minister’s office refused to let a department release the info, but it is the department which gets whacked. Quite a power assymmetry there.

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  6. mikenmild (11,661 comments) says:

    I think more effort could be put into the routine release of information. If departments would routinely publish online at least the information that they have already provided in other forms. like select committee questionnaires and responses to other OIA requests, that would be a good start.

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  7. Tony (10 comments) says:

    I am very concerned with Recommendation 17 that states:

    The term “commercial” should not be defined in the legislation. Instead, a new withholding ground should be added to section 9(2) of the OIA and section 7(2) of the LGOIMA, stating that good reason for withholding official information exists (subject to the public interest override) where the making available of the information would be likely to cause material prejudice to the competitive position or financial interests of any person, including the agency that holds the information.

    This additional withholding ground will mean that financial information associated with Non-Commercial activities can now be withheld . . . so councils and government agencies will now be able to refuse access to the cost information on their subsidies to sports events, public transport, etc. even when their activities are on a non-for-profit basis. The Law Commission claims:

    5.55 We do not think that such an addition to the withholding grounds will unreasonably increase the amount of information which can be withheld. Rather it will mitigate the present level of uncertainty.

    I fear they are not correct.

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