Wednesday, August 27, 2014

About time

The Chief Ombudsman will be conducting an inquiry post-election on the general handling of OIA requests:

Chief Ombudsman Dame Beverley Wakem said issues which would be examined included government departments having to seek "sign off" from their ministers before releasing information when there was no reason to do so.


"I have observed unnecessary steps and referrals upwards. I have heard of at least five layers of approval before something can be released. That's absurd."

She said the unnecessary upwards delays included referrals to ministers for approval to release information. There were also offices which had "delayed things beyond what is reasonable" while others did "incredibly well".

Good. Its become increasingly apparent that there are problems, particularly around Ministerial control-freakery and abuse of the "no surprises" policy. And this is resulting in delays and information being withheld. I've got a complaint in ATM about the SSC's election period OIA guidance, which is basically "delay everything for referral to the Minister", and while it has all the appropriate caveats around ensuring that requests are responded to in a timely manner and not delaying responses simply because the information is embarrassing to a government facing an election, the practical effect (as observed on FYI) is that any remotely controversial request is delayed until (conveniently) the first working day after the election.

OTOH, she's explicitly not looking at rorting of the system, as seen here, or in the case of Cameron Slater's now-infamous OIA request to the SIS. Which seems to be a major gap in the inquiry. Shouldn't Ministerial bias in application of the law be examined too?