Official Information Act 1982

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Official Information Act 1982
Coat of arms of New Zealand.svg
New Zealand Parliament
An Act to make official information more freely available, to provide for proper access by each person to official information relating to that person, to protect official information to the extent consistent with the public interest and the preservation of personal privacy, to establish procedures for the achievement of those purposes, and to repeal the Official Secrets Act 1951
Date of Royal Assent 17 December 1982
Date commenced 1 July 1983
Administered by Minister of Justice
Introduced by Jim McLay
Amendments
None
Related legislation
Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987
Status: Current legislation

The Official Information Act 1982 is a New Zealand law passed by the 3rd National government in 1982 to "make official information more freely available, to provide for proper access by each person to official information relating to that person, to protect official information to the extent consistent with the public interest and the preservation of personal privacy, to establish procedures for the achievement of those purposes".[1] It also repealed the Official Secrets Act 1951.

Summary of the Act[edit]

The Act is an implementation of Freedom of information legislation. It creates a regime by which people can request and receive information held by government officials and bodies. The scope of the Act is extremely broad, and includes all information held by any Minister in their official capacity, or by any government department or organisation (as listed in the Act or the Ombudsmen Act 1975). This includes government ministries, hospitals, universities, schools, the Security Intelligence Service, and even state-owned enterprises. Local government is covered by the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987.

The starting point of the Act is the "principle of availability": "that... information shall be made available unless there is good reason for withholding it". "Good reason" is narrowly defined in the Act. Conclusive reasons for withholding information include national security or international relations, that it was supplied by another government in confidence, maintenance of the law, personal safety, or severe economic damage. Other reasons include

  • protecting personal privacy;
  • protecting trade secrets;
  • protecting information given in confidence;
  • protecting public health and safety;
  • protecting New Zealand's economic interests, or members of the public from material loss;
  • protecting the confidentiality of ministerial discussions and advice;
  • protecting the "free and frank advice" of officials, and Ministers from harassment;
  • legal or professional privilege;
  • commercial confidentiality;
  • allowing the government to conduct negotiations; or
  • preventing the use of official information for "improper gain or improper advantage";

However, these reasons must be balanced against the public interest.

Requests can also be refused if release of the information would contravene the law or constitute contempt of court, or for administrative reasons (because the information will soon be made publicly available, that substantial research is required, or simply because it is vexatious).

Requests for official information may be made by New Zealand citizens or residents (including anyone present in New Zealand) or by body corporates incorporated in New Zealand, or having a place of business in New Zealand. Government organisations have 20 working days to respond, and if a request is refused in whole or in part, they must give reasons for the refusal. Decisions can be appealed to the Ombudsman. Organisations can charge for large requests, but this is very rare.

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