Introduction

The law about access to official information is found in the Official Information Act 1982.

Official Information Act 1982 (external link)

The law has two primary purposes:

  • to increase the availability of official information in order to promote good government.
  • to protect sensitive official information, where necessary, in the public interest.

The guiding principle of the Act is that information must be made available if requested, unless a reason exists under the Act for withholding it.

The directory of official information

It is a requirement of the Official Information Act 1982 that a Directory be published or updated every two years. The purpose of the Directory is to assist members of the public to exercise their rights under the Act effectively. The Directory can assist people in two ways:

  • it gives a detailed picture of the structure of central Government departments and organisations.
  • it enables people to find out exactly where their requests for information should be made.

The contents of the Directory are set by section 20 of the Official Information Act 1982. The Directory must include a description of all central Government organisations covered by the Act, including their functions, structure, records, manuals, committees and contact officers. The Directory is available electronically on the Ministry of Justice website www.justice.govt.nz and can be downloaded for printing.

Requests for official information

Under the Act, information may be requested from:

  • Ministers of the Crown.
  • Government departments and organisations.
  • State-owned enterprises.
  • District Health Boards.
  • Educational institutions, including boards of trustees.
  • Other organisations coming within the definition of "organisation" set out in the Act.

You are entitled to:

  • Request access to any specified information.
  • Seek reasons for decisions made about you.
  • Request access to internal rules affecting decisions.
  • Request access to minutes of meetings of public bodies, including those not open to the public.

It is easy to make a request: simply contact the organisation concerned and ask for the information you want. It is best to make requests in writing, but this is not essential. It is not necessary to mention the Official Information Act specifically.

Costs – See the charging guidelines section.

Time – Requests must be answered within 20 working days. If the time is extended, you must be told about the delay and the reasons for it.

Who – Anyone who is in New Zealand or who is a New Zealand citizen overseas may request information. Corporate bodies with places of business in New Zealand may request information.

Format – You may ask for a copy of the information, or you may inspect it, for example, if it is a large file. You may also listen to a tape recording or ask for a transcript or for a complete printout.

Refusal

Requests can only be refused for one of the reasons details in the Act. You must be told the reason for the refusal and informed of your right to make a complaint to the Ombudsman. There are several interests that may lead to a refusal, including:

  • The maintenance of the law.
  • The effective conduct of public affairs.
  • The disclosure of trade secrets and commercial sensitivity.
  • The impact on personal privacy.
  • The information requested is or will soon be publicly available.

Review

You can complain to the Ombudsman if you are refused access to information, the request is not answered within the time limit, or you are charged an unreasonable fee.

If the Ombudsman thinks your complaint is justified, he or she can make a recommendation to the organisation concerned.

Almost all recommendations are accepted by the Minister or organisation concerned.

There is no charge for making a complaint to the Ombudsman. There are Ombudsman’s Offices in Wellington, Auckland and Christchurch.

Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987

The Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987 extended the law about official information to cover information held by city councils, regional councils, district councils and other types of local authorities. It also extended the Act to cover meetings of public bodies, including those not open to the public. Local authorities are required to publish a guide to their organisations that can assist people making requests. This information is not included in this Directory but can be obtained directly from local authorities.

Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987 (external link)

Privacy Act 1993

Personal information about oneself held by a Government agency is not covered by the Official Information Act 1982. Members of the public may apply to the relevant agency under the Privacy Act 1993 if they wish to obtain a copy of, or otherwise have access to, information held about themselves. They may also ask for it to be corrected.

Requests for personal information should be directed to the department that holds the information.

Criminal and traffic convictions, court hearings, fines and orders are held by the Ministry of Justice.

New Zealand Police records details of firearms, deportation orders and overseas convictions.

NZ Transport Agency records traffic offence demerit points and licensing offences. No fee is charged for requests.

Complaints about refusals to release or correct personal information should be directed to the Privacy Commissioner, Box 455, Auckland or Box 10 094, Wellington.

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