Official information changes for digital age
EMPLOYMENT AND JUSTICE REPORTER
Sweeping changes to the acts that cover the release of Government information may include making information easily available on websites.
The Law Commission's report, The Public's Right to Know: Review of the Official Information, was released today and investigates the relevance of The Official Information Act, which covers central Government and public companies and organisations, and the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act that encompasses councils.
The acts allow members of the public to request information that must be provided, or refused within certain guidelines, within 20 working days.
Professor John Burrows, the lead commissioner on the project, said the acts had been successful from the start but needed updating for the digital age.
A main recommendation of the report was to encourage proactive release of information that could be accomplished easily through websites, eliminating the need for the public to request it in the first place.
Another area that needed addressing was the lack of a statutory body that could regulate the official information area.
The Ombudsman was only mandated to investigate complaints and there was no set-up to give policy advice or organise training for departments and requesters, he said.
The Commission recommended setting up an information commissioner, similar to those recently introduced in the UK and Australia, while keeping the complaints framework within the Ombudsman's Office.
''New Zealand, having led the way for so long, can't afford to fall behind.
''An information commissioner would be nice...but this is not the best fiscal climate to recommend new agencies being set up so we're leaving that to the Government.''
Speaking at a media conference to launch the report, Commission president Sir Grant Hammond said the introduction of the OIA in 1982 was one of the most important in New Zealand's history.
''There are certain acts in Parliament that are genuine game changers and OIA is one of them. It's quite arguable the Official Information Act is the most important thing in public life since the invention...of democracy itself.''
The report also recommends broadening the scope of the act to include areas of the courts and Parliament such as the office of the clerk and parliamentary service.
But it also suggests re-drafting the rights of refusal and including two new grounds, to protect financial interests as well as information provided in the course of a statutory investigation or inquiry.
The report will be presented to Parliament this afternoon and the Commission will work with the Justice Ministry and Department of Internal Affairs to assess its recommendations.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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