Privacy Law and Policy Reporter
Ross Robertson, a Labour Party MP, has introduced a Paperwork Reduction Bill into the NZ Parliament which would create a process to monitor government forms used to obtain information from the public. The private member's Bill was introduced with minor party support notwithstanding opposition to it from the governing National Party. In the light of the fluid political situation in NZ as the electoral process transforms itself into one of proportional representation' it is difficult to gauge the likelihood of success for an opposition initiative of this type.
The Paperwork Reduction Bill, which presumably has its inspiration in the US law of the same name, is a simple measure of just eight clauses which has the bold objective of reducing to a minimum the amount of paperwork that government departments, Crown entities and state enterprises require the public to complete.
The Bill would require public sector organisations to undertake a regular 'paperwork audit' involving a review of all forms used to obtain information and an identification of the information needs of the organisation. A plan is required to reduce the time needed to complete forms. The audit is forwarded to the responsible minister and tabled in Parliament. A 'paperwork monitoring report' would be prepared in relation to each form used to obtain information from the public. The report would:
(a) note the reason for each question or each item of information sought;
(b) state whether the information requested is required or optional;
(c) state how the information will be used and state who will have access to it; and
(d) estimate the time required to complete the form.
All forms would have a note printed on them stating where the monitoring report can be obtained and some forms would have to note the agency's estimate of the time needed to complete them. Agencies would be required to outline compliance with the Act in their annual report and any action taken to reduce paperwork.
The Bill has been an opportunity for editorial writers and cartoonists to express sympathy for the Bill's objective but cynicism at the likely outcome. One newspaper noted people wishing to comment on the Bill were required to supply 20 copies of their submissions to the Select Committee.
The Government is also concerned with the issue. Last year the Ministry of Commerce issued and released a policy and discussion paper proposing to tackle business compliance cost reduction. Ideas included departmental action plans, accountability mechanisms, vetting new initiatives and an examination of third-party compliance costs. In his submission to the Ministry, the Privacy Commissioner emphasised that adherence to the information privacy principles can assist in compliance cost reduction. He suggested that any review of compliance costs include an audit of whether forms comply with the principles.
It is possible that if the Bill is enacted that its main value may lie not in the reduction of paperwork, which may indeed be a pipedream, but in the formalised review of information collection forms and the focus on the purpose of collection, identification the need for information, and the explanations that are given to the public about the further use of that information. The process has the potential to usefully reinforce the collection limitation principle, purpose specification principle and accountability principle.