The official information act is a horse and cart on a Formula 1 race track – former mediator

In 2019, Things first published the Redacted series exploring issues in the Official Information Act (OIA). Three years later, we are revisiting the OIA to see what has changed.

The law governing access to official information is as outdated as a horse and cart on a Formula 1 circuit, says a former news watchdog.

The Official Information Act (OIA) is ‘out of date’ and needs a ‘thorough review’, according to Leo Donnelly, who worked for 32 years in the OIA’s ombudsman’s office and spent all four last years helping people extract information. .

“OIA has worked well for 40 years, but it’s basically a tool for a different age,” Donnelly said. “Legislation is now a horse and cart on a Formula 1 circuit.”

In July 2020, former Justice Minister Andrew Little promised to rewrite the law, following submissions to the Ministry of Justice revealing problems with delays, denials and over-removals.

Ministry officials said an effective official information law was essential to the functioning of a democracy, and that the revision of the law would provide “an opportunity to consider improving openness, transparency and accessibility of government information”.

Two years later, Little’s promise remains unfulfilled.

The review was canceled after the justice portfolio was transferred to Kris Faafoi, who said it was likely to be done “later in this legislature”. However, Faafoi left parliament in June and the responsibility passed to the new justice minister, Kiri Allan.

A spokeswoman for Allan said she was working on her priorities, “with a focus on making the system more fair and equitable.”

“Pledges of former ministers will be considered as part of this work, alongside other issues such as criminal justice, electoral law and victim support.”

As of October 2020, advocacy organizations child poverty action group, Greenpeace, Forest and Bird, JustSpeak, New Zealand Council for Civil Liberties and Amnesty International called for a full and independent review of the OIA “following a growing concern that it is not fit for purpose”.

All of these organizations reaffirmed the need for reform.

Civil Liberties Council Chairman Thomas Beagle said a review was needed to reduce delays and political interference and increase accessibility and accountability. The law should also be extended to more government agencies.

Has public access to official information improved?

Sungmi Kim / Stuff

Has public access to official information improved?

“We strongly believe there needs to be a review. I think the shortcomings of the OIA are becoming more evident, rather than less, unfortunately.

Greenpeace spokesman Adam Currie said a review was “urgently required”. The organization had been waiting a year for a single historical document on the Rainbow Warrior bombing and Currie recently received a response from the OIA from Climate Change Minister James Shaw who refused or withheld 14 out of 15 documents and redacted all the comments of the only published document.

“Transparency is everything,” Currie said. “How are we supposed to hold the government to account when huge brick walls are erected between the public, the decisions of ministers and the advice of officials?

“The government must rebalance the OIA in favor of transparency and the public’s right to know about those decisions that impact us, the environment and future generations.”

Amnesty International Aotearoa’s campaigns director, Lisa Woods, said Amnesty strongly believed a “full and independent” review was needed.

His organization has used the OIA to hold decision makers to account, but this has been hampered by long delays, excessive suppression and an inability to keep up with massive technological changes. A 2020 request to corrections regarding lockdown hours in prisons was extended by 40 days — a delay the ombudsman later ruled was unjustified, Woods said.

“The OIA is far too important to let it flounder. All of this goes to show why there needs to be a review of the OIA, rather than relying on an ad hoc approach to improving practices. »

A request from the Civil Liberties Council's OIA for policy documents supporting the government's decision to introduce vaccine passes was rejected on the grounds that it would be 'proactively published' - in three months.

A request from the Civil Liberties Council’s OIA for policy documents supporting the government’s decision to introduce vaccine passes was rejected on the grounds that it would be ‘proactively published’ – in three months.

Is the proactive version the answer to OIA’s problems?

Government agencies that publish information before it is requested — known as proactive publication — are often touted as a solution to the OIA’s problems of overburdened officials and delays.

Beagle said it was best to get information without going through a lengthy OIA application process. However, proactive publishing could also be used to game the system.

When he made a request to the OIA in October 2021 for the guidance documents supporting the government’s decision to introduce vaccine certificates, his request was denied, on the grounds that the information would be released proactively, “by the end of January”.

“It’s just ridiculous,” Beagle said. “You can’t proactively post something in a few months after someone has already requested it. It just doesn’t make sense.

“Proactive publishing is a real win. But it’s not the be-all and end-all…and it can’t be used solely as a way to hide and delay.

Donnelly warned that proactive posting could also present a distorted view. While responses to OIA requests were expected to disclose withheld information, proactive releases did not.

“If I want to change your perception or your interpretation, I can change the basic information. I reorganize it so that you see something different. And how you do it depends on what you are disclosing, the moment or the context. .

“That’s the danger of proactive release. I post a lot of stuff, but I don’t post other stuff that colors how you would interpret what’s in front of you.

In 2019, Things first published the Redacted series exploring issues in the Official Information Act (OIA). Three years later, we are revisiting the OIA to see what has changed.

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