“The Prime Minister has tied himself up in knots over whether he will support changes to the Official Information Act,” says ACT Leader David Seymour.

“Today I wrote to Chris Hipkins and other party leaders seeking a cross-party commitment to reforming the Official Information Act and introducing penalties for knowing and deliberate non-compliance with the law.

“Asked in Parliament whether he’d support such a move, Hipkins was evasive. It’s a simple question: will he or won’t he support criminal penalties for people who knowingly break the law?

“Everyone agrees the Act is a critical part of our democracy in that it allows New Zealanders to hold the Government accountable. Everyone knows Ministers and public servants game the Act by finding reasons not to release information.

“The problem is there are no penalties for deliberate non-compliance with the law. The Ombudsman takes months to investigate complaints and, when non-compliance is established, the only consequence is for Ministers or government departments to release the information they should have released anyway. If departments and Ministers can frustrate the purposes of the Act without penalty, accountability suffers.

“There needs to be a stronger incentive for Ministers and public servants to comply with the law.

“In the past few days, Otago University law professor Andrew Geddis, Wellington lawyer Graeme Edgeler, and Victoria University academic Andrew Ecclestone have all advocated for penalties being introduced into the Act to encourage compliance.

“Ecclestone has pointed out that ‘intentionally acting to frustrate people's right to information under similar laws was an offence in 72 countries including the UK, Ireland and Canada, leaving New Zealand in the minority.’

“ACT is calling on Chris Hipkins and other party leaders to commit to an OIA amendment bill which introduces criminal penalties for knowing and deliberate non-compliance with the OIA.”

Link to letter here.


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