New Zealand planning law demanding bureaucrats use simple language to communicate

New Zealand is planning to introduce a new law that demands bureaucrats, government officials, and others use less jargon and write in a simpler, more comprehensible form of English for the public.

The Plain Language Bill mandates that the language used by bureaucrats and government officials be “clear, concise, well-organised and audience-appropriate”. The bill had passed its second reading in the past few weeks but needs to face a final vote before becoming law, reported The Guardian.

“People living in New Zealand have a right to understand what the government is asking them to do, and what their rights are, what they’re entitled to from the government,” MP Rachel Boyack, who presented the bill, was quoted as saying by the newspaper.

New Zealand’s Plain Language Bill aims to “improve the effectiveness and accountability of public service agencies and Crown agents, and to improve the accessibility of certain documents that they make available to the public, by providing for those documents to use language that is (a) appropriate to the intended audience; and (b) clear, concise, and well organised”.

Local media reported that if the bill is passed, the Public Service Commissioner will have to produce material to help agencies comply with plain language requirements.

The Plain Languages Bill also aims to improve accessibility of documents for people with disabilities.

The bill also has its opponents.

New Zealand’s opposition has argued the bill will not work if it is passed.

“Let me speak with extremely plain language,” said National MP Chris Bishop. “This bill is the stupidest bill to come before parliament in this term. National [the National party of which he is a member] will repeal it.”

It is important to note that New Zealand also has an award for plain language which includes a “best sentence transformation” trophy.

In 2017, the winner for the “Best Plain English Sentence Transformation” was given the award for transforming a sentence of the New Zealand statistics department.

The original sentence, according to the award’s website, was: “Over the year we tested the innovation readiness and change-adaptability of the organisation, made significant changes to our prioritisation and investment approaches, moved to activity based working and seen teams across Stats respond by making time to focus on tackling customer and internal pain points.”

It was taken from the department’s annual report document.

Jan Schrader won the award for changing the above sentence to this: “We tested how ready our organisation was to innovate and make changes. We also changed our approach to setting priorities and to investing, and moved to a flexible working style for our staff. In response, staff focused on solving their own, and customers’, irritations.”

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