General information



The expression “knowledge is power” is usually attributed to Francis Bacon. The implications of that expression in the political domain have been much debated over the centuries. There is however a clear acceptance today, on a worldwide basis and in international law, that access to information held by government is vital insofar as it enables better participation in the democratic process; helps to promote trust in government; and, if necessary, enables government to be held to account.

Further, the State holds huge amounts of information which can and should be able to be resorted to by researchers, businesses, and citizens, for all sorts of purposes outside government. In short, the State itself is perhaps the major repository of information of general public utility in any given society.

In the 1980s New Zealand passed the Official Information Act and the Local Government Information and Meetings Act to enable citizens to resort to this repository, as of right. If a request was made, the information thereafter had to be made available, unless there was good and sufficient reason for the declinature of the request. That was a sea change from the philosophy which had prevailed to that point of time in our history.

There is no question that has been a development of the greatest political importance and utility to New Zealanders. The fundamental premises of official information legislation have been vindicated. Indeed, so much is this policy part of the everyday lives of New Zealanders now that it is not easy to recall a time when it did not prevail.

As always, no legislation is ever entirely perfect. And over a quarter of a century of marked social and economic developments there have been many changes in context. There have been huge developments in technology and the management of information; the commercial context has itself shifted markedly with information itself acquiring intrinsic value and commodity-like characteristics; public expectations – buoyed by the very success of the initial legislation – have grown as to a culture of openness and availability of information.

At the same time, some operational difficulties have revealed themselves; and some aspects of the exceptions to the legislation have been shown to require renewed attention.

There had been limited reviews of some specific sections of the Act by this Commission in 1997, and some research projects in New Zealand. But it was timely to undertake a full scale review.

The Commission received such a reference in 2009. The Commission published an Issues Paper (The Public’s Right to Know) in September 2010. And it has, since that time, carried out wide-ranging consultations. Based on those submissions and further consideration by the Commission, it has now prepared its Final Report for tabling in Parliament, in accordance with the usual processes. It is hoped that this Report will help to sustain and advance this beneficial legislation though a future of successful operation in this country.

The Law Commissioner responsible for this report was John Burrows, and the Legal and Policy Advisers were Margaret Thompson, Joanna Hayward, Mihiata Pirini and Andrea King.

Signature of Justice Grant Hammond

Hon Sir Grant Hammond KNZM