20 Mar 2016

Labour joins Green backing of OIA tables

9:01 pm on 20 March 2016

The Labour and Green parties have backed the new Chief Ombudsman's plan to publish a table ranking government agencies on compliance with the Official Information Act (OIA).

Co-leader of the Green Party.

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Labour Party leader Andrew Little said he supported plans to publish a table ranking government agencies on compliance with the Official Information Act.

Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier was planning to release the table in July, and said he had given early notice so agencies would begin to lift their game.

Mr Little said the handling of OIA requests had become increasingly patchy and variable.

"I think the more transparency we can have about actually who is doing the job properly, who is obeying the spirit and the letter of the law is well worthwhile," he said.

"OIA is one of the most important things we have for open government."

The Office of the Ombudsman needed to be funded so it could do its job properly, he said.

Greens co-leader Metiria Turei said it was a brave move, and would put pressure on ministers and departments to release information without unnecessary delays.

The move followed a report last year by Judge Boshier's predecessor, Dame Beverley Wakem, into the operation of the OIA by 12 selected government agencies.

She found some ministerial officials had tried to limit the scope of information released under the act.

Ms Turei said she believed a league table would expose which agencies were not meeting their obligations under the OIA.

The government has politicised the OIA by using it to stop the release of potentially embarrassing information, she said.

"A government that is closing down transparency, refusing to release information, doing deals in secret and not telling the public is a bad government, it is an undemocratic government," she said.

"And New Zealanders can have some confidence that we have an ombudsman who understands that quite clearly and is going to change it."

If agencies could not cope with the volume of requests from the public, media and opposition parties, the government should allocate more resources to them, she said.

The Prime Minister's office has not yet responded to requests for comment.

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