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Thursday, February 07, 2013

NZ not up for major information access reforms

The New Zealand Government has responded to the Law Commission review of the Official Information Act, picking at a few of the 137 recommendations but rejecting the need for major reforms.  

Among the NZ commentariat  No Right Turn who said he would be quite happy if the LC report died quietly in a ditch somewhere and was forgotten, thinks that is pretty much what has happened. Wellington Barrister Steven Price on the other hand had a more positive view about the Law Commission's proposals writing just before the Government response was released.

The full text of the response is ironically, hard to locate but thanks to some expert ferreting by a NZ colleague the link is here.

Of particular interest is the thumbs down given to the proposal for statutory creation of a new oversight office along the lines of our information commissioners. The Ombudsmen are doing fine thanks.

And the big NO to the recommendation that the OIA extend to the Offices of Parliament, Parliamentary Counsel Office, the Office of the Clerk and Parliamentary Service, and the Speaker of the House, in respect of administrative and financial information and excluding any audit, assurance work, inquiry or investigation activity.
"The government does not agree with the Law Commission’s recommendation and supports the status quo.  New Zealand has an open Parliament by international standards and Parliament currently makes a great deal of information available.  Parliament has processes for developing rules around access and use of information and this is more likely to achieve the desired balance between access to information and the proper functioning of Parliament.  This approach is consistent with the approaches taken in the Australian and Canadian federal parliaments and the US Congress. .... the existing scrutiny provided through the Parliamentary estimates and financial review processes is considered appropriate.  This scrutiny is publically accessible and provides transparency in the work and spending of the Offices of Parliament."
Hmm, off the rails a bit there.

The Australian federal parliamentary departments at present are covered by the FOI act as they lament in a submission to the Hawke review. They want coverage cut back - roughly to what the NZ Law Commission recommended. 

That's the situation in Tasmania

The Westminster houses of parliament are covered in the UK. So is the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly of Wales and Northern Ireland Assemby. And as I understand, parliaments in Ireland, India, South Africa and Mexico, to list a few more. 

NZ does FOI well and leads the likes of us in many respects. 

But big picture, modernising reforms have gone to the backburner.

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