Government says it has no plans to reform the Official Information Act

Concerns of abuse of the Official Information Act by Government Ministers have been growing for years.

Last December: Clare Curran is planning a few shake-ups

Broadcasting aside, Curran has also been given the newly created role as the Minister in charge of ‘open government’.

Falling under her Associate State Services portfolio it’s a natural fit for Curran who during her years in opposition was a loud campaigner for greater transparency.

She repeatedly criticised the National-led coalition for refusing to improve government practice in the area and for gaming the Official Information Act (OIA).

But, of course, when the shoe is on the other foot those strong views can sometimes mellow.

Curran was apparently “half-hearted” when asked by the Otago Daily Times if she agreed the OIA was being manipulated for political purposes but is clearer now that it has happened in the past, but won’t in the future.

How can she be sure that a Labour Minister won’t do the same thing a year or two down the line, once they’re feeling more secure in their power?

“Through better processes and protocols being in place that we all sign up to and agree to. I don’t think it is being made to agree to it (formally), it’s about a will and getting things right.”

To push through this change, she and Justice Minister Andrew Little will review the Act and previous recommendations from the Law Commission and the Ombudsman and take a policy to Cabinet.

While the final result may not be a major legislative change, Curran is supportive of a former Labour Private Member’s Bill that called for the Ombudsman to be given the power to fine departments and Minister’s offices that inappropriately withheld information.

Real change will take time, she says, with a culture shift within the public service needed.

“To change the way that advice is provided, to the way in which it is released to the public, is not something that can be turned around overnight.

“It’s hugely frustrating, it means that people feel there’s a deliberate attempt to keep every piece of information withheld from public scrutiny. That is the thing that has to be turned around.”

But it now appears that no review of the OIA will happen.

NZ Council for Civil Liberties: Disappointment as Government says it has no plans to reform the Official Information Act


Contrary to reporting last year, it seems that the Government currently has no plans to reform the Official Information Act.

At the time we wrote to Ministers Clare Curran and Andrew Little expressing our support for such a reform. We have finally had a response from Justice Minister Andrew Little that:

Although a review of the Official Information Act is not presently under consideration by the Government, such a review is possible at some point in the future.

Chairperson of the NZ Council for Civil Liberties, Thomas Beagle says:

We’re very disappointed that the Government won’t be reforming the OIA, it’s a vital tool in holding governments to account. The OIA has been steadily weakened over the years by both changes in how government works, and gaming of the law by Ministers and public servants.

Among other things, the Council would like to see serious consideration given to:

  • Further encouragement for extensive pro-active publication of documents.
  • Removing commercial sensitivity as a ground for withholding information, particularly for outsourced government services.
  • Giving the Office of the Ombudsman more resources and powers to enforce the Act.
  • Restricting the use of the “legal privilege” grounds to times when matters are actually before a court.
  • Reducing Ministerial interference with OIA requests.

We believe that the Official Information Act does need substantive reform, and that the reform process should include significant public consultation and participation. “The Official Information Act needs to be updated so that it can continue to be used to deliver open and transparent government in service of our democracy. We call upon the Government to reconsider its position and start the OIA reform process now,” says Thomas Beagle.

6 Comments

  1. J Bloggs

     /  May 21, 2018

    “… although every Opposition pledges itself to repeal the Official Secrets Act, no Government has ever done so.”
    – Sir Humphrey Appleby

  2. Gezza

     /  May 21, 2018

    Maybe it’d be a good idea for Jacinda to pro-actively release Clare Curran from her non-role as the Minister for Open Government, scrap the portfolio, and avoid any future embarrassment? o_O

    • alloytoo

       /  May 21, 2018

      Why not just call a spade a spade and change her title to “Minister for Propaganda”

      Twyford can be minister for “Broken Dreams” but he may have to share that with Hipkins who will also be Minister for “Union Protection”.

      Jacinda is the Minister for being “Perfectly clear”, and I understand they’re already hard at work with signage in Ancient Inca Khipu, they may however be stringing us along.

  3. I have never had an OIA back “early” from ministry of health, even when they decline for a given reason, they drag it out to the last day…..

    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  May 21, 2018

      Yes, they all game the system and wonder why they are regarded with contempt.

  4. David

     /  May 21, 2018

    Surprised they havent set up an inquiry into it