Provisional support from Ombudsman for secret document

The Chief Ombudsman has given provisional backing for Jacinda Ardern to keep the so-called secret coalition document secret – or at least the contents of it anyway.

Newsroom:  Ombudsman sides with Govt over coalition document

The refusal of the new coalition Government to release a lengthy coalition negotiation document, despite promises of transparency, led to a complaint to the chief Ombudsman. Peter Boshier has now ruled that the Government was within its rights to withhold the material.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters revealed the existence of the document in late October after signing his party’s official coalition agreement with Labour, describing it as “a document of precision on various areas of policy commitment and development”.

“These are directives to ministers with accountability and media strategies to ensure that the coalition works, not in a jealous, envious way, ‘We got this and they got that’, but as a Government successively, cohesively working.”

While Peters said at the time the document would be publicly released, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s office refused to release it to Newsroom under the Official Information Act, arguing it was not official information.

Ardern later described the document as “notes” made during negotiations that were yet to be finalised, not a formal government document.

“Where we’ve committed ourselves to a piece of work and a policy piece of work, we’ve released that. Where there’s more work to be done, that will be released at the time when we’ve reached a conclusion.”

In a provisional opinion sent to Newsroom, Boshier said he had “carefully read and considered” the document, saying it was “clearly made for the purpose of assisting the parties with coalition negotiations”.

“It contains discussion points designed for negotiation and, despite certain public comments to the contrary, does not include information such as directives to Ministers,” Boshier said, in an apparent reference to Peters’ comments about the document.

Ardern’s office told Boshier the document had not been passed on to any ministers or government departments, or used by any ministers in carrying out their official duties.

“It has played no part in policy decisions, and is not available to Ministers as reference material when making official decisions.”

Boshier said he was therefore satisfied that the information had not used by Ardern in her role as Prime Minister, and was held “solely in her capacity as Leader of the New Zealand Labour Party”.

He said he would consider any comments on the provisional opinion before forming a final opinion.

So a provisional win for Ardern.

I don’t really care whether the document remains secret or not, especially this long after the negotiations. It’s not likely to change anything.

10 Comments

  1. Subsequently the Ombudsman has said this is very provisional. My take is that it’s more if a stay.

  2. Political Strategy: Promise openness and transparency.
    Political Reality: Then don’t release a document that one party said would be released.

    Personally I don’t care, but the Coalition needs to think, speak and then stay true to their word if they want to be seen as credible on the openness and transparency fronts. Otherwise its a free for all meme and slogan fest for their opponents.

    • Corky

       /  December 12, 2017

      Bullseye. More grist for the mill. Top draw stuff for a rainy day.

    • Blazer

       /  December 12, 2017

      I hope they’re not going to keep on copying National’s policies…Dave.

      • I don’t know… blazer. Maybe you can ask your mates if that is their strategy? personally I don’t care either way…

  3. Gerrit

     /  December 12, 2017

    I don’t really understand why Labour would die in the ditch for this. One thing is for sure, it is going to get leaked/hacked, so just front up with it.

    Labour, there are more important things to worry about, such as running the country.

    And Winston Peters did not seem to mind getting sunlight onto the document/notes so why the cloak and dagger, secret squirrel performance?

    • Blazer

       /  December 12, 2017

      its another in an increasing line…of non stories.

      • You mean themes you’re not happy with?

        Peters, the conferrer of power to these thus far incompetents said it was:

        “a document of precision on various areas of policy commitment and development”.“These are directives to ministers with accountability and media strategies to ensure that the coalition works, … but as a Government successively, cohesively working.”

        It either is or he’s lying

        • Gezza

           /  December 12, 2017

          I often believe the Ombusdman. I rarely believe Winston.