Privacy / Confidentiality
Applications submitted to the Overseas Investment Office (OIO) are a public record. However, the OIO may withhold information contained in an application in accordance with the provisions of the Official Information Act 1982.
Withholding the existence of an application
If, for reasons provided for in the Official Information Act, there is good reason to withhold the existence of an application from the public, the OIO will not disclose the existence of the application while it is being considered. However, once an application is determined, the OIO will still issue a public decision summary.
Withholding details of an application
The OIO will normally consult with the applicant, or the applicant's legal representatives, before releasing any information that is not included in the public decision summary. If an applicant can show that good reason exists for withholding some or all information in respect of the application (but strictly in accordance with the Official Information Act), the OIO may agree to withhold that information. Applicants can reasonably expect their concerns to be taken into account, but they cannot veto release of the information. The applicant may ask the Office of the Ombudsmen to investigate whether the decision to release the information was reasonable. Applicants should be aware that third parties may seek a ruling from the Office of the Ombudsmen as to whether the material should have been withheld by the OIO.
Reasons for withholding information
While there are a large number of reasons why official information can be withheld, some of those reasons are more relevant to requests made to the OIO. These include:
- privacy of natural persons
- free and frank expressions of opinion
- legal professional privilege
- prejudice to the maintenance of the law, and
- prejudice to a person's commercial position.
A frequent ground for withholding official information is that the release will result in "prejudice to a person's commercial position". When a person being consulted believes that official information should be withheld on this ground, they must:
- identify the prejudice that would likely result to that commercial position if the requested information were to be made available
- assess how likely it is that disclosure of the information at issue would cause the predicted prejudice to occur
- explain how that prejudice would be unreasonable, and
- explain why withholding the information will not outweigh public interest in its release.
For a detailed discussion of these and other reasons for withholding official information, see the Office of the Ombudsmen's practice guidelines.