Lynda Harris | June 1, 2023
In short — it won’t be enforced. The Act does not describe a formal mechanism for enforcement. However, the Act does include an extensive reporting process, which will ensure that it is effective.
All agencies that fall under the Act (‘reporting agencies’) are required to have a Plain Language Officer (PLO). One of the PLO’s key roles is to make sure the agency complies with the Act. This includes reporting every year to the Public Service Commissioner, who in turn reports to the Minister for the Public Service, who will then report to Parliament.
Ideally, agencies will report what they have done to promote, support, and expect plain language, and the immediate and wider impact of these initiatives. Many public servants will be directly involved in reporting. We hope that they, their organisations, and the wider public and media will be inspired by the results they are seeing.
The Act does not include penalties for non-compliance. Instead, the Public Service Commission will create a centralised reporting process to make sure all agencies provide the information required.
We understand the Public Service Commission will provide a standard form and will follow up with PLOs to make sure the report is completed.
In the sense that it is a law of New Zealand, passed by Royal Assent — yes.
However, the Act places requirements exclusively on government agencies, rather than on other organisations, the private sector, or the public.
As it doesn’t talk about penalties or prosecutions, we see the Plain Language Act 2022 more as an Act of opportunity. The Act sets out foundational requirements, but doesn’t set limits. Agencies have the opportunity to embrace the Spirit of Service. In doing so, they can show that they are helping to create a positive impact in New Zealand by fulfilling the intent — rather than purely the letter — of the new law.