The Law Commission has proposed a wide-ranging extension to the powers of the Official Information Act in a report handed to MPs today.
Law Commissioner Professor John Burrows suggested significant changes to the Act, which could extend it to other bodies beyond government including universities, school boards of trustees, parliamentary agencies and the courts.
"We believe there is a case now if a body is receiving public funding and is performing a public function it should be accountable under the OIA," he said.
Burrows said the 100 recommendations in the report The Public's Right to Know could also see ombudsmen and the auditor-general come under the act because they spend public money "but in such a way as does not interfere with their investigative functions".
It has been 30 years since the Act was first passed in 1982 and, while New Zealand was once at the forefront of the OIA movement, a review of the legislation is now widely thought to be needed.
Law Commission President Hon Sir Grant Hammond said it is "quite arguable the Official Information Act is the most important thing in public life since the invention of democracy itself".
Other recommendations in the 400-page report include appointing an Official Information Act Commissioner, similar to the one in Australia, to oversee policy and development of the whole Official Information scene, something that is being set up overseas.
The role would be to advise and train agencies, encouraging proactive release, interrelating the OIA with other Acts of Parliament, and deciding whether new agencies should be subject to the Act or not, Burrows suggested.
He also said that in the modern age there should be more encouragement for agencies to put high value data on their websites. This, he argues, would benefit both the public and the agencies.
The report was tabled this afternoon in Parliament. The Ministries of Justice and Internal Affairs have been asked to develop a Cabinet paper responding to the recommendations.