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OIA report could have serious ramifications

Labour has serious concerns about the wide ranging and potentially chilling effect on the flow of government information following the release Beverley Wakem’s report, Labour’s Open Government spokesperson Clare Curran says.

“Today’s report by the Chief Ombudsman into the Official Information Act shows government departments are being encouraged by Minister’s offices to withhold material for political reasons. This is further delaying the release of information.

“The report also highlights the falling quality of public debate because the Government is failing to follow the requirements of the Act.

“While some findings in this report should send a signal to the Government to improve its performance, there are a number of concerning comments by Beverley Wakem that may have the opposite result.

“The suggestion that media and politicians could be charged for information could set a dangerous precedent. There is a long standing convention that agencies don’t charge media or politicians because it would stifle the free flow of information which is in the public interest.

“A further suggestion that agencies should rely more on legal provisions allowing them to refuse requests due to the administrative burden could also restrict access to information.

“This inquiry was sparked by John Key’s lack of transparency and admission last October that the Government sometimes delays releasing information right up to the deadline for political purposes.

“Beverley Wakem has admitted she had no jurisdiction to interview the Prime Minister or Ministers as part of this inquiry. The report is poorer for that.

“The free flow of information is vital to a functioning democracy and must be maintained,” Clare Curran says.