The volunteers of, like you and public servants around the country, are learning to deal with the challenges of operating under COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. We hope all our users and those handling requests are staying safe and well.

Access to official information is an important right in a free and democratic society, as noted by the Minister of Justice on Tuesday.

The accountability and means to participate in policy debates guaranteed to New Zealanders by the OIA and LGOIMA are not fair weather rights to be brushed aside when times are tough. Extraordinary powers are being used and decisions made. Scrutiny of public agencies is as important as ever.

However, with this right comes responsibility. We agree with the Ombudsman’s recent call for requesters and agencies to act fairly, reasonably and with understanding.

Requesters should always think about the workload caused by their requests, be considerate, and be respectful in their communication. During this time of unprecedented disruption, we further ask our users to:

  • Think whether your request truly needs to be sent now, or can wait until New Zealand is at a lower alert level;
  • More than ever, do your homework first and see if the information you need is already available online;
  • Try to define the scope of your request no wider than it needs to be. We understand that people may not trust agencies not to play games of hide and seek, but please don’t make broader requests than necessary - it is likely to create frustration, extra work and take longer to get the information you want;
  • Explicitly state when making your request that you are willing to discuss it with officials: they are more likely to get in contact to discuss any issues if you do so. Discussing your request may be required because officials may be working from home and not able to access the information you want, or it may take longer than normal.

Continuing to seek information you need is a legitimate and important activity. Unlike other countries, New Zealand has not used the emergency as an excuse to restrict our rights to know. That should be applauded. But requesters need to do their part, and remember that the people receiving and dealing with their requests are people who are also going through a period of great stress, and doing their best in difficult conditions.

Please be kind while using your rights. And wash your hands.