Information Authority could overcome open govt concerns: Ellis

Media commentator Gavin Ellis has called for more discussion on proposals to strengthen New Zealand’s Official Information Act and enhance open government.

Dr Ellis was commenting on proposals in Geoffrey Palmer and Andrew Butler’s book Towards Democratic Renewal about the need to improve compliance with the Official Information Act in order to make government more transparent.

The book proposes to establish an independent Information Authority empowered to review government decisions to deny public and media requests for information. The Authority could then decide to release the information.

The book also proposes that offices of Parliament – including the offices of the Speaker, the Clerk, Parliamentary Services, and Parliamentary Counsel – should be subject to the Official Information Act.

According to the book, the Official Information Act is critical ‘in preventing corruption and engaging citizens in the affairs of Government’. Public opinion could act as a check on government ‘only if people know what is going on’.

Palmer and Butler wrote that the Official Information Act’s principles remained sound, ‘but they are being imperfectly executed’, and the present policy settings ‘do not serve the interests of transparency in government’.

Dr Ellis’s 2016 book Complacent Nation also raised concerns about erosion of New Zealanders’ democratic rights, especially their right to know what the government was doing on their behalf.

Dr Ellis, speaking on National Radio’s Nine to Noon Show, said:

“What Palmer and Butler are suggesting is a very, very powerful oversight authority that I think will be music to the ears of journalists and also goes some way to overcome growing concerns about the Official Information Act.”

He said the book and a recent report by the Open Government Partnership had raised concerns about how the Official Information Act was administered.

“The combination of that report and the Palmer-Butler book I hope will lead to greater discussion of this issue because it really is important and [there’s] not enough talk about it.

Listen to the full interview…