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New Zealand

Official Information (NZ0018)

Overview

At-a-Glance

Action Plan: New Zealand Action Plan 2018-2020

Action Plan Cycle: 2018

Status: Active

Institutions

Lead Institution: Ministry of Justice and the State Services Commission

Support Institution(s): NA

Policy Areas

Legislation & Regulation, Legislature, Right to Information

IRM Review

IRM Report: New Zealand Design Report 2018-2020

Starred: Pending IRM Review

Early Results: Pending IRM Review

Design i

Verifiable: Yes

Relevant to OGP Values: Access to Information , Civic Participation , Public Accountability

Potential Impact:

Implementation i

Completion:

Description

Commitment 7: Official information
Objective:
To improve the availability of official information by:
• providing advice to the Government on whether to initiate a formal
review of official information legislation
• progressively increasing the proactive release of official information
by publishing responses to requests for information made under the
Official Information Act 1982 (OIA). This commitment builds on
work - undertaken as part of the National Action Plan 2016-2018 -
on official information to make information more accessible, which
promotes good government and trust and confidence in the State
Services.
Ambition:
New Zealanders:
• can have confidence that the regulation of official information
remains fit-for-purpose
• have equitable access to official information released in response to
specific requests.
Status quo:
The Law Commission’s 2012 review of official information legislation
recommended a number of changes to the OIA, some of which resulted in
amendments.
Since the Ombudsman’s 2015 report on OIA practices, the focus has been
on improving agency performance on implementing the letter and the spirit
of the OIA.
Approach:
There have been continued calls to take another look at the legislation.
The conversation and workshops with civil society to develop this Plan also
generated ideas and suggestions to improve official information legislation
and practice. This input will be built on to inform advice to Government
on whether a formal review of official information legislation would be
worthwhile, or whether the focus should instead remain on achieving
practice improvements. Lead agencies: Ministry of Justice and the State Services Commission
Timeline: October 2018 to June 2020
Commitment 7: Official information
OGP Values Public Participation,
Transparency,
Accountability
Verifiable and measurable milestones to fulfil
the commitment
Start date End date
Test the merits of undertaking a review of the
Official Information Act 1982 and provide and
publish advice to Government
Following
the report
back of the
Privacy Bill
(anticipated
November
2018)
June 2019
Achieve a measurable increase in the proactive
publication of official information request responses
October
2018
June 2020
Implement a policy to publish Cabinet papers
proactively within 30 days of final decisions, unless
there are good reasons to withhold specific papers
October
2018
January 2019

IRM Midterm Status Summary

7. Official Information [77]

Objective: “To improve the availability of official information by providing advice to the Government on whether to initiate a formal review of official information legislation; and progressively increasing the proactive release of official information by publishing responses to requests for information made under the Official Information Act 1982 (OIA).

This commitment builds on work, undertaken as part of the National Action Plan 2016-2018, on official information to make information more accessible, which promotes good government and trust and confidence in the State Services”.

Milestones:

  1. “Test the merits of undertaking a review of the Official Information Act 1982 and provide and publish advice to Government”;
  2. “Achieve a measurable increase in the proactive publication of official information request responses”;
  3. “Implement a policy to publish Cabinet papers proactively within 30 days of final decisions, unless there are good reasons to withhold specific papers”.

Start Date: October 2018

End Date: June 2020

Context and Objectives

This commitment’s objective is to improve the availability of official information by advising government on whether to initiate a formal review of official legislation and by progressively releasing more responses to OIA requests. Its aim is for the public to have confidence in government’s regulation of information and equitable access to OIA request responses. The commitment responds to ongoing public and international concern about the age of the OIA and availability of online responses to OIA requests. [78], [79] Previous IRM reports documented these issues and recommended extending the OIA’s scope to include the Office of the Clerk, Parliamentary Services and Officers of Parliament, while retaining parliamentary privilege, in line with recommendations of the Law Commission and others, and building on administrative change since then, such as the Parliamentary Privilege Act 2014. [80]

The Global Right to Information Rating for New Zealand is 51 out of 123 countries and states in August 2019:

New Zealand's access regime is one that, according to our information, functions better in practice than its legal framework would suggest. The law's major problems include its limited scope (it does not apply to the legislature, the courts, or some bodies within the executive) and the fact that it allows information to be classified by other laws ”. [81]

The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) and the State Services Commission (SSC) will test the merits of undertaking a formal review of the OIA and provide and publish their advice to government, drive increased proactive release of responses to OIA requests and implement government policy to publish Cabinet Papers proactively within 30 days of final decisions unless there are good reasons to withhold specific papers. The activity to release Cabinet Papers is an unexpected milestone as it is beyond the commitment’s objective.

MOJ and SSC officials advised the IRM researcher on 18 February 2019 that they are seeking approval from the Minister of Justice for Milestone 1 activity to involve ‘targeted engagement with groups with expertise in the OIA, plus some government departments and media commentators”. This expanded on the Minister of State Services’ advice as set out in his Cabinet Paper [82] and the Cabinet minute relating to proactive release. [83] They also advised that they would also invite public submissions on the Ministry of Justice’s consultation website, but they did not plan any campaign alerting the public to this invitation. They did not envisage “big public consultation with people and bodies”. [84] They expected Milestone 1 work to be completed in June 2019.

Most stakeholders commenting on this commitment felt the OIA review work is a limited and unambitious step towards OIA reform and expressed concern about its limited public engagement. They want public clarification of what the term “test the merits” means, details of the measures that MOJ and SSC plan to use to test the merits, and any decisions following government’s response added to this commitment’s scope. [85] They sought a full review, addressing implementation issues such as political interference, frivolous questions, a Centre of Expertise for agencies responding to questions and adoption of the Law Commission’s recommendations as described above. They applauded the recent work by the State Services Commission and the Office of the Ombudsman to improve agencies’ practice responding to routine OIA requests.

Proactive publication of OIA request responses increases the availability of official information; and publishing Cabinet Papers realises the previous and current governments’ pledges. The commitment meets OGP’s access to information and public accountability values as it pertains to government-held information, and by publishing responses to requests for information made under the OIA, officials could disclose non-sensitive information that calls upon specific agencies to justify their actions. The Minister of Justice’s plan to carry out targeted engagement meets OGP’s narrower public participation value.

All milestones are specific enough to verify. MOJ advises Milestone 1 will continue as planned despite the Privacy Bill’s late report-back to Parliament on 13 March 2019, and the SSC confirms it has added measurement of Milestone 2 to the six-monthly OIA statistics it releases. [86] Stakeholders recommend also adding measurement of Cabinet paper releases. [87]

If Ministers and all agencies subject to the OIA fully implement Milestones 2 and 3 as designed, the Commitment’s potential impact will be minor. This prediction is based on the results of 2016-2018 action plan’s Commitment 2. [88] Transformational change depends on Milestone 1’s advice to government and government’s subsequent decision. Stakeholders want OIA reform to address the effects of the ‘no surprises policy’, extend proactive release classes, set non-compliance penalties, and develop an OIA release platform.

Next steps

If this commitment is carried forward to the next action plan or if there are improvements to the implementation of this commitment, the IRM researcher recommends that:

  • the limited scope of Milestone 1 is expanded to become a full review covering the matters raised in all of New Zealand’s OGP IRM reviews and by stakeholders interviewed for this report;
  • measures are taken to deepen and increase engagement with civil society;
  • should Milestone 1 continue, new activities which set out next steps following government’s response to Milestone 1’s advice are drawn up;
  • implementation of Milestone 3 is measured, as set out in the Cabinet Paper; and the IRM encourages new activities during implementation to:
  • acknowledge the required report back to Cabinet on the proactive release of Cabinet Papers policy and its effectiveness by 1 December 2019; and
  • for the SSC and the Department of Internal Affairs to work on a possible centralised platform for the release of OIA information. [89]
[84] IRM interview with MOJ and SSC officials, 18 February 2019.
[85] IRM interviews with EAP, Dave Lane, Chairperson, NZ Council for Civil Liberties, Andrew Ecclestone, Dr Miriam Lips, NZGov Tech, Dr Rowena Cullen, Craigie Sinclair, Dr Koenrad Kuiper, between 9 January and 4 March 2019.
[87] Discussions with NZGov Tech, 18 February 2019.

Commitments

  1. Engagement with Parliament

    NZ0012, 2018, Capacity Building

  2. Youth Parliament

    NZ0013, 2018, Capacity Building

  3. School Leavers' Toolkit

    NZ0014, 2018, Capacity Building

  4. Making New Zealand’S Secondary Legislation Readily Accessible

    NZ0015, 2018, E-Government

  5. Public Participation in Policy Development

    NZ0016, 2018, Capacity Building

  6. Service Design

    NZ0017, 2018, Capacity Building

  7. Official Information

    NZ0018, 2018, Legislation & Regulation

  8. Review of Government Use of Algorithms

    NZ0019, 2018, Science & Technology

  9. Data Practice Transparency

    NZ0020, 2018, Capacity Building

  10. Monitoring Information Management Practice

    NZ0021, 2018, Legislation & Regulation

  11. Open Data Government Organizations

    NZ0022, 2018, E-Government

  12. Open Procurement

    NZ0023, 2018, E-Government

  13. Open Budget

    NZ0005, 2016, Capacity Building

  14. Improving Official Information Practices

    NZ0006, 2016, Capacity Building

  15. Improving Open Data Access and Principles

    NZ0007, 2016, Capacity Building

  16. Tracking Progress and Outcomes of Open Government Data Release

    NZ0008, 2016, Capacity Building

  17. Ongoing Engagement for OGP

    NZ0009, 2016, Capacity Building

  18. Starred commitment Improving Access to Legislation

    NZ0010, 2016, Capacity Building

  19. Improving Policy Practices

    NZ0011, 2016, Capacity Building

  20. BPS Result 10 – New Zealanders Can Complete Their Transactions with the Government Easily in a Digital Environment

    NZ0001, 2014, E-Government

  21. ICT Strategy Action 13 – Open by Default: Active Re-use of Information Assets

    NZ0002, 2014, Capacity Building

  22. National Integrity System Assessment

    NZ0003, 2014, Anti-Corruption Institutions

  23. The Kia TūTahi Relationship Accord

    NZ0004, 2014, Capacity Building

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