Thursday, April 09, 2015

The OIA is not a petition mechanism

Last year, we saw an organised campaign using FYI [down, but will be up again] to lodge OIA requests with Tim Groser demanding the release of the draft text of the TPPA. The aim was to show support for release, effectively using the OIA as a petition mechanism. All it resulted in was 50 form-letter refusals.

And now there's another similar campaign, this one over EQC. Unlike the previous one, which asked people to lodge their own requests, this one asks people to "add their electronic signature in support of an Official Information Act (OIA) Request". The implication is that this will lend the request more weight. It won't. Instead, its a pointless exercise which mistakes the OIA for a petition process. But that's not what the OIA is about. The purpose of the Act isn't to help people voice their grievances about the government, but "to make official information more freely available". Whether information is released is (supposed to be) decided on the merits and in accordance with the principle of availability, not on how many people want it. So unless you're the first person to request something, or you have another angle which might excavate different information, "adding your signature" to an OIA request or submitting duplicate requests has no effect whatsoever - and to the extent it results in form responses, it actually undermines the latter.

As for the request itself, it falls into all the usual pitfalls: a political preamble which invites the responding agency to treat it as correspondence rather than a request; a question-and-answer format; trying to get all the answers at once. These are pretty much guaranteed to result in an unhappy OIA experience: