The Official Information Act is a really important part of our constitutional framework. Passed back in 1981, it turned the old approach on its head. Before then, information was kept secret unless there was good reason to release it. Now State information is publicly released unless there is good reason to withhold it.
Government departments and agencies have pretty good processes for dealing with requests for official information. An important part of that is making sure information generated is captured and stored in the first place.
The world has changed a lot since the Official Information Act (OIA) was passed in 1981, one of the most notable changes being the emergence of email as a significiant means of information sharing and communication. The public service has adapted and information transmitted via email is captured and released under the OIA when requested.
Recently I was told that some staff working in National ministers’ offices have been setting up Gmail accounts in order to get around the OIA and to ensure that their communications aren’t captured. If they are transmitting ‘official’ information through Gmail and aren’t releasing it when asked, they are breaking the law.
I asked John Key whether he had a policy on the use by staff of Gmail. He is the Minister Responsible for Ministerial Services, so if staff working in the Beehive are breaking the law then the buck stops with him. He answered my question stating “The question the member asks relates to staffing matters which are the responsibility of the Chief Executive.”
Frankly, that’s just not good enough. John Key has a responsibility to ensure that the staff working in the Beehive are complying with the law and aren’t hiding official information. If they are using Gmail accounts to get around the OIA, John Key needs to crack down on that ASAP. Failure to do so suggests they have something to hide.