Last month the government presented its response to the Law Commission's report entitled The Public's Right to Know: Review of the Official Information Legislation to Parliament. The response can be viewed here.
The Commission's report, which was published on 25 July 2012, contained over 100 recommendations for reform of New Zealand's official information legislation, including the Official Information Act 1982 (OIA) and the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987 (LGOIMA). The Commission considered that while the legislation is sound, change was needed to reflect developments in information technology, to reflect that government agencies are now more commercial in nature, to make sure that government information is properly made available, and to clarify withholding grounds.
While the government has decided to progress some of the Commission's recommendations, it has decided not to adopt many of the Commission's more substantial recommendations because, it says, of other legislative priorities and the current fiscal environment. Some of the recommendations that the government has decided to progress include:
- Ensuring there is better education and guidance provided on the Acts, which the government is satisfied is already being progressed by the Ombudsmen
- Amending the OIA to extending its coverage to the administrative functions of the courts (but not to Parliament, as the Commission recommended)
- Amending the Acts to clarify the grounds for withholding information, to ensure that information can be withheld if prejudice to competitive positions or financial interests could result.
Recommendations that have not been adopted include:
- That the Acts be replaced with entirely new legislation, including possibly an Act that combines the OIA and LGOIMA
- That the new legislation include provisions requiring agencies to take steps to proactively make official information publicly available
- That a new oversight body such as Information Commissioner be established.
Given the government's decision to focus only on a limited number of the Commission's recommendations, it is unlikely that there will be any substantial changes to the way that official information legislation works in practice, even once legislative amendments are made. It is unfortunate that requiring proactive release of information has not been progressed by way of legislative change, as the Commission's reasons for making that recommendation are sound. We encourage bodies subject to the OIA and LGOIMA to consider instituting proactive release procedures (which a number of agencies do already).