The Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier says too many New Zealanders are still unaware of their rights to request information from Ministers, government agencies, and councils despite a growing thirst for information by the public.
The release of the data coincides with International Access to Information Day 2020 which acknowledges the importance of access to information laws and the community’s right to know.
“New Zealand and Denmark are rated by Transparency International as the most transparent countries in the world. Our freedom of information laws help foster an open society, yet the fact that people can request information from agencies is not as well understood as I would like,” says Mr Boshier.
Mr Boshier says the survey showed 82 percent thought it was important for people to be able to access government information, yet only half those surveyed knew of the legislation that allows them to do so.
“Not everyone needs to use the legislation, but it is important they know it is available. A key focus of mine in the past few years has been to raise the knowledge of both my role and what people can expect from the public sector.
“Only half those surveyed were aware of the official information law which is too low in a country that prides itself on transparency and open government.
“The survey showed that 15% of respondents had tried to access information held by Ministers and central and local government in the past three years.
“More than two-thirds of those people received the information requested. On occasions there may be legitimate reasons for an agency not to supply information. But the rule of thumb should be ‘Why shouldn’t I release this information?’ rather than asking ‘Why should I release this information?’ That approach will improve transparency even more.
Mr Boshier said one heartening aspect of the survey was that nearly 20% of respondents who asked for information got it more quickly than expected.
“I know there is a lot of work being put in by some areas of the government sector to become much more efficient at dealing with requests, and there is a growing trend to proactively publish information that is in the public interest.
UMR surveyed 1,030 New Zealanders aged 18 and over about our freedom of information laws – the Official Information Act and the Local Government and Official Information and Meetings Act. The online survey was conducted between 25 August and 2 September. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 per cent.