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.