Steven Price

My book

Media Minefield

Guide to NZ Media Law

Official Information Act

Official Information Act

Bill of Rights Act

Media law resources

Feeds (RSS)

« | Main | »


By Steven | August 31, 2010

NoRightTurn has done some excellent work compiling statistics on whether government Ministers are complying with the time limits in the Official Information Act.

His conclusion: too often, they’re not.

Only one Minister, Chris Finlayson, met the legal standard of responding to requests “as soon as reasonably practicable, and in any case not later than 20 working days after the day on which the request is received”. Every other Minister is breaking the law. Overall, only 71% of requests were answered on time, while four Ministers – Jonathan Coleman, Tim Groser, Judith Collins, and Gerry Brownlee, made timely responses in only 50% of cases.

Kudos to Chris Finlayson, by the way. And a huge brickbat to Paula Bennett who doesn’t seem to think her office is subject to the OIA. Here’s hoping the Ombudsmen’s office will put her right.

As for many of the others, this seems rather to reflect the contempt in which they hold this law – which, let’s not forget, is about government accountability. It’sĀ also due, as NRT points out, to the lack of any repercussions if they flout it. Don’t imagine that Labour Ministers were lily-white either.

It’s interesting that the mean and median response times cluster around 20 working days. In some ways, this is encouraging: they seem to be aware of this deadline, and are at least complying with it most of the time, even if they’re leaving it to the last minute. I say “deadline”, though it’s not really the deadline under the Official Information Act. The legal time-limit for a response is “as soon as reasonably practicable”…the 20 working day limit is a long-stop. In this sense, pretty much everyone flouts the OIA.

NRT is right that officials are faster at responding. I found an average response time of about 11 working days, with no huge cluster at day 20, and only one in eight late.

The under-performing Ministers deserve all the bad press they get for this. It may be the only thing that will make them take their legal obligations seriously.

Topics: Official Information Act | 2 Comments »

2 Responses to “FOIled”

  1. ryan Says:
    September 1st, 2010 at 10:56 pm

    Minister Paula Bennett is a serial OIA offender – after a while you begin to feel sorry for her in many respects. With her its incompetence more than anything else. I listen to her on the radio and it brings back memories of time I spent working on the psychiatric wards and talking to patients who had schizophasia: mixture of randomly chosen words that, while arranged in phrases that appear to give them meaning, actually carry no significance.

  2. ross Says:
    September 2nd, 2010 at 8:42 am

    I suspect Ministers have always flouted the OIA and always will, probably because they know the Office of the Ombudsmen has no teeth. I’ve lost count of the number of times the Justice Ministry has responded to me outside the 20 working day limit. Complaints to the Ombudsman fall on deaf ears.


You must be logged in to post a comment.