Charges for official information 'step in wrong direction': James Shaw

Green Party co-leader James Shaw says government agencies spend too much time "obfuscating" official information rather ...
Ross Giblin

Green Party co-leader James Shaw says government agencies spend too much time "obfuscating" official information rather than releasing it.

Routinely charging media and the public for official information requests would be a step in the wrong direction, Green Party co-leader James Shaw says.

The issue of charging media for Official Information Act (OIA) requests is in the spotlight, after the Reserve Bank sent a Fairfax journalist a $651 invoice for information he had requested.

A spokesman for the Reserve Bank said it instituted an official OIA policy for the first time in November last year, with charging as "standard policy" for all requests.

It had discussed whether requests from media outlets should be exempt from charges, but decided that "as a matter of policy it will be even-handed on charges", with no charge for "small, simple or infrequent requests".

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The Ministry of Justice has said it will review current guidelines for the state sector regarding OIA charging, after former Chief Ombudsman Dame Beverley Wakem said last year the law did not support "an outright exemption based on the identity of a requester" when considering whether to charge a fee.

Shaw said charging media for official information requests was "part of a worrying trend" and a step in the wrong direction.

"The point of the Official Information Act is that the information belongs to the public and the public should be able to get access to it.

"If you're charging $600 or $1200 or whatever, that's going to mean pretty much that all the requests are going to dry up."

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While government departments were legally allowed to charge a reasonable fee for OIA requests, Shaw said they were "simply a cost of doing business" which should be budgeted for.

"If they start passing that cost directly onto the user, then you're eliminating the whole point of the act."

Part of the problem was that government agencies spent too much time "obfuscating the information" rather than simply releasing it, he said.

"If you didn't spend three-quarters of your time blacking out pages and all of that kind of stuff, it would cost you a lot less to give the information.

"Over the past few decades, it's become much more of a cat and mouse game."

 - Stuff


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