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Open government needs open information

2 December 2008

Open government needs open information

The Green Party is calling for the Official Information Act (OIA) to be strengthened, in light of the Ombudsmen's annual report to Parliament today suggesting its purpose is being subverted by delaying tactics used by some Government agencies and ministerial offices.

"The Ombudsmen's report confirms what many of us who use the OIA already know. The release of information is often extensively delayed and - in our experience - when it finally appears, large parts of documents are blanked out," Green Party Co-Leader Russel Norman says.

"For a democracy to function properly we need timely access to Government information. Unfortunately that access is often denied.

"The new Government has a great opportunity to show that it intends to operate in a more open manner than its predecessor by strengthening the OIA, so citizens can actually find out what is going on with their democratically-elected Government.

"I totally agree with the Chief Ombudsman that the OIA and the Public Records Act (PRA) are fundamental to good governance and encouraging citizen participation in the democratic process.

"If John Key intends to review electoral law using an all party committee, then why not take the reforms further and review the OIA and the PRA because these are also essential components of our democracy.

"The Greens have already developed ways to improve the OIA and PRA. We released these at our Open Government policy launch during the election campaign (see below) and are very happy to share these ideas with the Government."

Excerpt from the Greens Open Government Policy (For full policy see: http://www.greens.org.nz/policy/open_government )

Changes to OIA and PRA: The Official Information Act needs to be more effective so that people can access the information they want without lengthy delays and censorship.

For more open Government the Green Party will:

* Introduce legal responsibilities and penalties, under the Public Records Act or elsewhere, for individual public servants to keep good records (ie write things down, put things on the file etc).

* Tighten up time limits for replies and other opportunities for delay, narrowing exclusion provisions so there cannot be excuses to withhold important information (notably relating to supposed commercial sensitivity, 'free and frank advice' and security), and giving greater powers to the Ombudsmen to censure agencies for non-compliance and uncooperativeness.

* Bring Parliamentary Services under the OIA - including how parties spend public money and who they hire can be seen by all, with an exemption to protect communication between constituents and MPs and to protect opposition parties from Government intervention.

* Make it clear that there is an expectation of openness and access to court records while leaving judges with discretion to deny access if reasons are given.

* Bring in a 30 year rule for opening of ALL public archives, as in Australia.

* Make sure staff have training in the proper implementation of the Act. A new body, like the former Information Authority, could monitor administration of the Act and do training.

* Apply the changes above to the Local Government Official Information and Meeting Act as well.

* Remove charging for Official Information Act requests and require costs to be met out of departmental baselines with an exception for vexatious, excessive and frivolous requests as well as requests for commercial gain.

* Include contractors and consultants to central and local Government agencies under Official Information Act requirements.

ENDS


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