I still don’t have much energy back and posting next week is also likely to be light, but I didn’t want to let pass another shameless abuse of the Official Information Act.
Several weeks ago I lodged a submission with the Reserve Bank on their (long and slow) consultation on the publication of submissions to consultations. I made the case for a default approach of full publication – bringing the Bank into line with a widespread practice now in the rest of the public sector. If necessary, I argued, the Bank should promote a minor legislative change that, for the avoidance of doubt, might ensure that they were fully able to release submissions on matters relating to the exercise of the Bank’s regulatory powers.
The consultation on publication of submissions was not about the exercise of regulatory powers, so there was no question that submissions to that consultation were covered by the Official Information Act. So I lodged a request asking for copies of the submissions.
I don’t suppose they will have received that many submissions to this consultation. Few of the submissions are likely to have been long. The issues covered by the consultation concern the Reserve Bank only, not any other agencies, so there shouldn’t be any need for inter-agency consultation. And of course the Act requires official information to be released “as soon as reasonably practicable”. So my request should, quite easily, have been able to be dealt with within, say, 10 days.
But this afternoon I received this letter
Dear Mr Reddell
On 3 August 2016 you made a request under the provisions of the Official Information Act (OIA), seeking:
“copies of all submissions received by the Reserve Bank on this consultation up to and including the close of the consultation period on 5 August 2016,” where the consultation you are referring to is the consultation on the default option for publication of submissions.
The Reserve Bank is extending by 20 working days the time limit for a decision on your request, to Friday 23 September 2016, as permitted under section 15A(1)(b) of the Official Information Act, because consultations necessary to make a decision on the request are such that a proper response to the request cannot reasonably be made within the original time limit.
You have the right, under section 28(3) of the Official Information Act, to make a complaint to an Ombudsman about the Reserve Bank’s decisions relating to your request.
It isn’t the most time-sensitive request ever, and there have been more egregious Reserve Bank obstructions, but the law is the law.
Actually, I suspect they are delaying not because any “consultations” are necessary, but simply because it doesn’t suit them to release anything until they have released their own final decision. But that isn’t a legitimate grounds for extending a request, and nor should it be. The Bank is, of course, free to make its decision on the substance of the policy on its own timetable, but the submissions are public information. A public institution committed to open government, transparent policymaking etc etc, would already have released the submissions. But not the Reserve Bank.
The Ombudsman promised a few months ago to start reporting on how agencies did in responding to OIA requests. It will be interesting to see how the Reserve Bank – which actually does make much of its alleged openness and transparency (about stuff it doesn’t know – the future – rather than stuff it does know – official information) – scores.