By enabling scrutiny of government activities, the Official Information Act 1982 and the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987 contribute to public trust and confidence in central and local government. The operating environment of these Acts is, however, very different from 30 years ago, in terms of parliamentary and government processes, technology, the internet, and public expectations. The review assessed these two Acts in light of these changes with a focus on the effective operation of the legislation for members of the public, officials, journalists, researchers and politicians.
The first stage of the review was an informal survey of agencies and interest groups, building on recent research into how the Official Information Act works in practice. The results of the Survey were published in March 2010. An Issues Paper, The Public’s Right to Know: A Review of the Official Information Act 1982 and Parts 1-6 of the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987 (NZLC IP18, 2010), was published in September 2010 with submissions due at the end of 2010. Almost 100 submissions were received.
The final report, The Public's Right to Know: Review of the Official Information Legislation (NZLC R125, 2012) was tabled in Parliament on 25 July 2012. The report endorses the well-established principles of the legislation and the essential role of the Office of the Ombudsmen but also contains over 100 recommendations for reform. These are intended to meet growing public expectations for easy access to information and to enable agencies to be more efficient in how they provide information. Recommendations cover alignment of the legislation with government policy about proactive release of information, legislative amendments to simplify the withholding grounds and improve operational processes, and clarification of the reach of the legislation. In line with international models, establishment of a statutory oversight function for the operation of the legislation is recommended.
The Public’s Right to Know (NZLC IP18, 2010)
The Commission's Issues Paper, The Public's Right to Know (NZLC IP18, 2010) discusses areas of possible reform relating to New Zealand’s official information legislation and asks for comment on some preliminary proposals. This Issues Paper is part of the Commission’s Review of the Official Information Act 1982 and Parts 1-6 of the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987. In December 2009, we asked both requesters and providers of information to let us know their main concerns with the operation of this legislation, and in March 2010, we published a summary of the main findings from this survey. We do not suggest any change to fundamental principles but recognise several ways in which the Acts could operate more effectively. Electronic technology has transformed the information environment worldwide and we must ensure our legislation can reflect that transformation. We also think our legislation needs more ongoing administrative oversight and support and ask how this might best be achieved.
The Public's Right to Know: Review of the Official Information Legislation (NZLC R125, 2012)
The Commission's Report, The Public's Right to Know: Review of the Official Information Legislation (NZLC R125, 2012) evaluates how effective the Official Information Act 1982 and the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987 are today, some 30 years since they came into effect. The paper is available for download below or you can view the online version.
The Commission found that a number of significant commercial, economic, legislative and societal developments since the 1980s mean key aspects of the Acts need to be reformed. The government has also made it clear that greater access to useful official information is a priority. The challenge in this report was to recommend ways in which the operation of the legislation could be improved for requesters while also removing unrealistic burdens on agencies. The changes are intended to make the legislation more effective for requesters and more efficient for officials to operate.
The report reinforces the main principles of the Act and strongly endorses the role played by the Ombudsmen in investigating complaints. It also makes over 100 recommendations for reform. These include measures to:
- enhance guidance about the legislation
- simplify unclear withholding grounds
- better protect commercially sensitive information
- encourage proactive release of public information
- improve operational processes
- establish statutory oversight functions
- clarify the reach of the legislation.
The Commission notes that opportunities to review and reform legislation of such importance to our constitution arise infrequently. We believe these changes are necessary for New Zealand to have a legislative framework that will enhance open government and be fit for purpose in our fast-moving digital information environment, and also keep pace with the rest of the world.
The Government response to the Commisison's Report The Public’s Right to Know: Review of the Official Information Legislation (NZLC R125) was tabled in the House of Representatives on 25 July 2012.
The Government did not accept most of the report’s recommendations. It did agree in principle to some of the recommendations (for instance, extending the Official Information Act to the administrative functions of the Court, adding withholding grounds on the basis of material prejudice to financial positions, for the Ombudsman to improve guidance and make case notes available – the latter has been implemented) and some recommendations have in practice been actioned (for instance, the proactive release of information as part of a commitment to open government).