Overview of the Official Information Act 1982
The Official Information Act (“the Act”) came into effect in 1982 in order to repeal the 1951 Official Secrets Act, with the purpose being to increase the availability of official information. Information that is governed by this Act is specified as information held by a department, a Minister of the Crown or an organization, as per s 2. The Act provides access to information relating to the public that is held by local authorities, whilst being aware of public interest and mindful to the preservation of personal privacy.
In order to access this information, you must be either a New Zealand citizen, a permanent resident of New Zealand, a person who is in New Zealand, body corporate that is incorporated in New Zealand or body corporate that is incorporated outside of New Zealand but has a place of business in New Zealand. When accessing information, the agency providing it must give reasonable assistance in doing so.
Section 5 mandates that official information must be made available unless there is a good reason for withholding it, while s 6 outlines these reasons as being if the information is likely to:
The Law Commission in its 2010 review of the Act explained that information requests are usually rather vague and end up seeking large amounts of information. To combat this, the Commission suggested that when information is requested, the agency which it is requested through should offer consultation into the amount of information that is being requested and the amount of information that is actually required. In doing so, this assists in clarifying the nature of requests to ensure that it can be obtained efficiently, thus reducing time and cost.
In terms of timeframes, any agency that receives a request for information is required to take no longer than 20 working days to decide if the request fulfills the criteria mentioned above and can be granted, and to notify the person who lodged the request of this decision.
There are certain limitations to the scope of rights the public can exercise regarding official information. They cannot ask for an agency’s opinion on any issue as this would be interpreted as a request to create information, which is not permitted under the Act. It is also not permitted that an individual requests information about themselves. If an individual does wish to obtain information on themselves, this falls under the jurisdiction of the Privacy Act 1993, and is obtained by a different process. If you are wanting to make an official information request, the easiest way to do so is via FYI.org.nz. This online tool ensures that your request is made public and anyone can see your request and how this has been responded to. Other ways to request information is to contact the agency via email, phone or social media.