New Zealand Commission Offers 100 FOI Reforms

30 July 2012

The New Zealand Law Commission July 25 issued a final report making more than 100 recommendations to reform 30-year-old right to know laws.

The report, The Public’s Right to Know: Review of the Official Information Legislation, evaluates the effectiveness the Official Information Act 1982 and the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987.

“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 Commission said its challenge “was to recommend ways in which the operation of the legislation could be improved for requesters while also removing unrealistic burdens on agencies.”

One proposal is that to make all publicly funded agencies, institutions or government-related offices subject to official information requests, including parliamentary officers, subject to certain exemptions and the courts, with regard to their administrative, but not judicial, functions.

The so-called “good government” grounds for withholding information need clarification, the report said, suggesting “adding a new withholding ground based on the protections of financial and competitive position.”  The Commission also suggested giving advance notice when private, confidential or commercial information is liable to be released.

The public interest override provision needs to be recast in order to give the requirement “more prominence,” according to the report.

Public agencies should be legally obliged to take all reasonable steps to proactively release official information, the Commission also said.

The Commission said it is attracted to the idea of creating an Information Commissioner position, but recognizes that “it may not be practical to move to this model in the current fiscal climate.”

The ministries of Justice and Internal Affairs have been asked to respond to the recommendations.

The Commission said its recommendations 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

 

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