The Royal Commission has clarified how information from agencies is to be handled as it relates both to the inquiry and requests made under the Official Information Act 1982 (OIA).
Further amended minute 2 makes it clear that orders made under section 15 of the Inquiries Act 2013 should not limit reasonable access to information held by agencies (which is also of interest to the Royal Commission).
“It is essential the Royal Commission is able to conduct its inquiries confidentially to get to the bottom of vital questions, so we can make robust findings,” says Commissioner Sir William Young. “However, it is clear that a significant amount of information provided to the Royal Commission could be publicly released without compromising this inquiry.”
When New Zealanders request information under the OIA, from agencies that the Royal Commission is engaging with, agencies are expected to follow their usual process, except in certain cases.
“The section 15 Orders apply only where the request is for material created specifically in response to a Royal Commission request, or for the correspondence between the agency and the Royal Commission,” says Royal Commission Member Jacqui Caine.
Section 15 Orders do not prevent coincidental publication of pre-existing material held by state sector agencies, even if that material has been sent to the Royal Commission as part of an agency response.
“For example,” says Sir William, “if an agency receives an OIA request for a Cabinet paper, which may have formed part of a package of evidence provided to the Royal Commission, the agency should consider its release under the Official Information Act, as the document was not specifically created for the Inquiry.”
“My expectation is that agencies will try to publish or grant public access to as much information as possible, as they normally would within the application of the OIA,” says Sir William.
Agencies may consult with the Royal Commission if there is any uncertainty about the application of section 15 orders.
The further amended minute 2 also clarifies the Royal Commission’s approach to gathering evidence and submissions from 218 agencies in the wider State sector. By including all State sector agencies in the inquiry, the Royal Commission is able to take a robust approach to its work.
This amendment now categorises those agencies as either Schedule 1 or Schedule 2. Schedule 1 agencies have evidence and information that may give rise to national security and other considerations due to the nature of their work and the information they hold. Schedule 2 agencies may assess that the information presented to the Royal Commission does not require continuing suppression and the Royal Commission may allow that agency to publish or grant public access to some or all of that information.
The Royal Commission remains committed to recommending as much information as possible is publicly released after it has delivered its Report.