Praise for releasing official information

The Dunedin City Council's decision to publish publicly its responses to requests for official information has drawn praise from Chief Ombudsman Dame Beverley Wakem, who says it is behaving in a healthy democratic manner.

Dame Beverley said yesterday she hoped more councils would soon follow suit.

The council has started publishing responses to requests made to it under the Local Government Official Information Act it deems to be of public interest.

Mayor Dave Cull said the decision to publish the responses monthly was the second stage of a three-part drive to increase council transparency that started with the regular release of items previously discussed in non-public parts of council meetings.

Releasing the information would be more efficient because often there were multiple requests for the same information, Mr Cull said.

Also, people could see the full information provided and not just the taste they often got in the media, and that it would, hopefully, alter the perception that because something was requested it was being kept a secret.

"My answer to that is it's not, and that information should be available as a matter of course."

Which was why the next phase of the transparency drive would be the proactive release of information the council believed was likely to be of interest to people, for example credit card spending and travel or legal costs, Mr Cull said.

Council governance manager Sandy Graham said not every Official Information response would be placed on the site, to ensure Privacy Act considerations, such as ensuring those seeking information could not be identified if they did not wish to be, were met. If responses had no public interest, they would not be published.

Individual requesters' privacy would be protected, but media requests would always be published, as would responses to public organisations and members of Parliament.

More than 30 requests and their responses dealt with since July have been posted on the council's website already.

They constitute about half of the responses completed in that time.

Most requests are from various media, three are from members of Parliament, three are from Cr Lee Vandervis, and most of the rest are from unidentified members of the public. Seventy-one requests in total were lodged with the council in the three months from July to September.

Dame Beverley said yesterday it was a great initiative by the council.

The publication of information went back to the genesis of the legislation, which was to increase openness and transparency, she said.

Unless there was a compelling security, privacy, commercial or other reason to withhold information, everything should be published.

"It informs the democratic discourse and gives people the basis on which to make informed submissions to those processes.

"And it supports the growth of trust in government, and ultimately that is what it is all about."

- debbie.porteous@odt.co.nz

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