New chief ombudsman promises to be a fearless operator

New Chief Ombudsman, Judge Peter Boshier.

New Chief Ombudsman, Judge Peter Boshier.

New chief ombudsman Judge Peter Boshier plans to be a fearless operator, with every intention of using his title and its "spectre" to draw attention to unacceptable practices.

"I'm not going to resile from saying things publicly in a considered, measured way when I think that's justified. That's what I did as the principal court judge and that's what I'll bring to this job," he said.

The former principal Family Court Judge, who replaced Beverley Wakem last month, is passionate about the need for agencies to provide speedy responses to requesters seeking information under the Official Information Act, and he believed most requests for that information should not attract a charge.

"The scheme of the Act is speedy, open release of information. That's what the Act says. We encourage that by people feeling if they have a reasonable request, they won't have to pay for the information supplied. That seems to me to be fair and logical," he said.

"The problem starts to come when requests - some of which I've seen - are really, really open and huge and a requester is asking for all things that happened between two dates. Now in order to comply there could be a massive amount of work. So I think it's inevitable that the agency gets miffed and says 'we just aren't resourced to do this sort of thing. You'll have to pay some of our time'," he said.

The issue of agencies charging for supplying information is not new, and arose again last week after the Reserve Bank told a Fairfax NZ reporter it intended to charge $651 to cover the cost of collating information.

"I think the Reserve Bank's response is actually very fair. When I looked at it I couldn't fault it. As a statement of principle it was perfectly fair and it's one to which I subscribe," Judge Boshier said.

While he believed most requests should not attract a charge, some would, including those that "put out a trawling net" requiring a huge amount of research and collation in the hope something might be found.

"It's a matter of fairness and balance, I think. In the end if there is a lot of information needed to assemble on a matter of huge public interest I would discourage any great charging," he said.

The office had a staffing increase from 68 to 83 last year, but remains under intense pressure, with a massive hike in the number of complaints it gets now compared to years gone by.

Ad Feedback

In 2014/15 the office received 12,151 complaints or other contacts. That's a 40 per cent jump on the 8808 it got in 2007/08.

Complaints concerning responses to the OIA and the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act account for a little more than 10 per cent of those received, but they attract the greatest public attention.

Judge Boshier puts the increase down to two things. It's partly due to improved technology - complaints are easily made online - and partly because the office is seen as a cheaper and faster alternative to taken action through courts.

But the office is not dealing with complaints as fast as Judge Boshier wants.

"We know that we've got to deliver fairness to people quickly. We're not going to be able to do that if we give everything Rolls Royce treatment. It's impossible, you get a roadblock by doing too much with too many cases".

He uses an analogy involving a medical centre and triage.

"A quick, concerted, robust look at an issue at the outset will determine if its a matter of needing an aspirin and a lie down, or some counselling, or a little bit of help and a prescription, or do you need rapid entry into hospital because you have something drastically wrong and you need treatment straight away."

"I want to reserve the real fire power at the high level for those cases where it's very complex and very tricky."

He was aware of the contention that agencies knew that the office was so busy that they could get away with non-compliance while an issue was in the public focus, and "that is a rotten situation to be in".

"The reason I want to reorient where we put our limited resources is because if this Act is to have credibility it's got to be applied robustly and quickly. I can only do that if I re-arrange where we have our high intensity resources. Then I think we will get credibility back," he said.

"We are in too much delay with too many of our cases. We're not going to hide that fact."

Turning to parliament for more resources and money wasn't tenable, he said, "but what will be acceptable is for me to cut things off at the pass earlier without a long and expensive investigation process that's unlikely to in the end be productive."

When it comes to the OIA and LGOIMA he wanted agencies to understand this: "you have a duty to release in most cases".

"You've got to be principled about why you won't release and secondly, it's a public duty to get on and consider requests quickly. It's not acceptable to take up time and leave it until the last minute. I'm going to say that and I'm going to act on it," he said.

"All I can do, using the moral authority I have - and maybe the Judge title and spectre will help a little bit - is to make a point of praising good performance and drawing attention to what I consider is unacceptable performance. I think that is what the public expect of me. I'm going to be pretty fearless about this," he said.

"I'm not going to shy away from criticising and I don't mind who it is that's criticised, if the response to official information is sub-standard."

"I am going to be reasonably public. I will make criticisms publicly where I think the credibility of the office will be enhanced by me doing that."

It was his goal to reduce the number of OIA complaints his office received "in the hope that agencies and requesters come to a good accommodation about the supply of information".

He would encourage a climate where requesters indicated what they wanted and why, and where agencies did not obfuscate when applying the principles of the Act.

He did not want agencies reactions to be along the lines of "lets leave this until the last minute, shall we, and hope it goes away" or "there's ostensibly so much work here let's just try to find a way out" and he expected them to look "morally correctly at the principles of the Act and releasing, when it should, and not relying on risk adversity".

"If people want to retain credibility, transparency is the way to go".

"I can talk from experience. When we required the Family Court to be open and transparent and accountable, our credibility soared. If agencies want to be trusted that they have credibility and good processes, they have nothing to fear."

"The work we do is hugely important. We are a place where people can go for redress with agencies and ministers that can wield enormous power," he said.

 - Stuff


Ad Feedback
special offers

Northland crash kills one

Emergency services were called just after 3.30am to the accident south of Whangarei.

One person has died in an accident early on Saturday morning south of Whangarei.

How do you stop begging? video

Marcus Pohio is homeless and regularly begs on Courtenay Place, in Wellington.

The only thing that will get Marcus Pohio off the street is death. But is public generosity speeding that up?

A day in the life of Jackie van Beek

Jackie van Beek and her husband Jesse Griffin.

Each week we ask a famous New Zealander to share a photo memory.

Woman gives birth at shopping mall

The baby was rushed to Starship Hospital in critical condition after it was born at Sylvia Park mall. (File photo)

A baby has been born in the toilets of an Auckland mall and rushed to hospital with its mum, in critical condition.


Ex-cop battles police to save RSA

Former Titahi Bay RSA president John Ward.

An alcohol sting on the Titahi Bay RSA was excessive, and could have shut the club permanently, he says.

Night of wind, rain video

Heavy rain is set to ease into showers, but they'll be heavy. (File photo)

Almost 13mm of rain is forecast in Wellington between now and midnight.

100 powerless on East Coast

Power has been lost to about 100 people on the North Island's East Coast. (File photo)

Storms cause several major faults as trees fall on to power lines.

Seatbelt message fails to click video

Freezing worker Danielle Kiriau, 17, was not wearing a seatbelt when she died in a car crash along with brother Shannon ...

Big rise in numbers killed when not wearing belts raises questions over safety ads.


The Bain story - one more time

Martin van Beynen, veteran print journo and now a podcaster, has been following the Bain case for 20 years.

Investigation culminates in major new true crime podcast about controversial murders.

Live: Southern deluge 

The Temuka River creeps higher and higher after a day of rain caused havoc around the South Island.

State of emergencies declared in several areas as flood waters force scores of evacuations.

Unborn baby dies after crash

A woman's baby was stillborn after she was in a two-car crash at this intersection of Ashley Gorge Rd and German Rd, ...

A heavily pregnant Canterbury woman's unborn child has died after a head-on car crash.

Second meth clean-up at complex

The Housing NZ Gloucester St unit being decontaminated for methamphetamine has been stripped of carpet.

HNZ's tenancy management negligence creates "ghetto-like environment", resident says.


Honeymoon hoon's 202kmh ticket

Brazilian surgeon Marco Filho, adjusting his belt after leaving the Hamilton courthouse on Friday, was charged with ...

Safe to say the Brazilian speedster is not in the good books of his new wife.

'Slow the (truck) down'

A variable speed limit for the section of Gordonton Road could be in place within a couple of months, council's ...

Frustrated city councillors send a message to drivers at a troublesome intersection.

Motorcyclist critical after crash

The crash occurred at the corner of the intersection of the Thermal Explorer Highway and Anzac St East in Horotiu.

Man taken to hospital following a serious crash in the Waikato.

Hung jury in rape trial

A former church youth group leader has been on trial in the Hamilton District Court on a raft of rape and sexual assault ...

A jury has been unable to determine whether a former church youth group leader raped two underage girls.


Truck blocks highway

The trailer of a large truck has rolled and was blocking half of SH3 near Waitotara in Taranaki on Friday.

One lane was blocked on SH3 near Waitotara after a truck crash on Friday morning.

Pre-nup was unfair

The High Court has upheld a lower court decision for a couple to equal property shares after separating

A pre-nuptial agreement gave one partner $20,000, and the other partner $1.5 million worth of assets.

Contented in Tikorangi

The cave had mysterious myths abut it but turned out to be a simple earth-moving creation.

This garden is a treasure as are the people who created it.

Doing the dirtiest work

After Disaster owner James Nunes-Vaz has never ever turned down a cleaning  job.

After the police and fire brigade have done their jobs at an emergency scene, the clean-up begins.


No way in, no way out video

The trail's reconstruction has made life much easier for villagers.

After the 2015 quake, villagers in Uhiya, Nepal, were isolated, forced to fend for themselves.

Paediatrician jailed

Jonathan Walsh is in jail after pleading guilty to 17 charges relating to the making and distributing of indecent images ...

Paediatrician who worked in New Zealand hospitals jailed in the UK over indecent images of children.

Petition calls for heads to roll

Horowhenua District Council chief executive David Clapperton, left, and mayor Michael Feyen are deeply divided over ...

Boss of snooping council and deputy mayor must go, says petition organiser.

Tennis courts for sale

Feilding's four asphalt courts will be sold despite five submissions opposing the sale.

Feilding's four asphalt courts will be sold despite strong opposition.


Battle to return soldier's diary

Margaret Kearns of Stoke, Nelson with a copy of her father's dairy, Hartley Palmer.

The Government has intervened to help return a war diary to its rightful home in Nelson.

Nelson's changing face

La Per and Mu Su Pan say they enjoy living in Nelson.

A fifth of Nelson's population was born overseas. Can the city meet their needs?

Man hit by car in Nelson

A 70 year old man was transported to Nelson Hospital in a critical condition.

A section of State Highway 60 in Nelson was closed on Friday evening after a man was struck by a car.

Dairy owners 'terrified'

Vijay, left, and Darshini Chauhan speak with Nelson Police Senior Sergeant Blair Hall  following a robbery at the dairy ...

After a spate of robberies across Nelson, the council has initiated a meeting with police and dairy owners.


St Arnaud's alpine magic

Mid-winter kayaking with girls having fun on Lake Rotoiti.

Anyone who has ever spent any time at the alpine village of St Arnaud, Lake Rotoiti, will already know what a special and captivating place it is. 

'Why not' sink navy ship?

Waikawa Dive Centre instructor Kate Trayling, left, and owner Stuart Scaife hope to use a decommissioned navy boat, ...

Divers push to sink HMNZS Endeavour in Marlborough Sounds for Cook commemoration.

Heavy rain causes slip

A section of State Highway 6 between Blenheim and Nelson has been closed to one lane following a slip on the road.

SH6 down to one lane after rain hits the top of the south.

No parole for dance teacher

Stayz Raukawa was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in jail at the Blenheim District Court in 2015. (File photo)

The sex offender will not finish treatment outside of jail, after his victim spoke to the parole board.

South Canterbury

Army called in to help gallery video

BP on Evans St, Timaru, has flooded.

Timaru and Oamaru in state of emergency as rain continues to fall. 

Downpours strike  video

Water rushes under the Leith Footbridge, in Dunedin, about 11pm on Friday.

Storm sweeps south as Timaru placed under state of emergency.

Army to evacuate sick child

An aerial view of an Oamaru street that has surface flooding in what was Oamaru's wettest day in July on record.

Defence Force sends truck to Oamaru to transport sick child to Dunedin.

Fallen tree blocks driveway

Timaru resident Ricky Hunter with a tree that fell across his driveway during the heavy rain on Friday, July 21.

South Canterbury man "stuck" at home with no way out other than on foot, after tree falls.


Stewart Island heritage gets $1m

An artist's impression of the Rakiura Heritage Centre. The centre has received, over $1 million in Government funding to ...

The Government is to commit $1.08m to the Rakiura Heritage Centre Trust.

Post-funeral brawl

Police and ambulance were alerted to the incident, but were not eventually required.

A post-funeral gathering in Bluff on Thursday night ended with blood, broken glass and a visit from the police.

Irrigation scheme 'a win-win'

Dairy Creek Ltd director Tim O'Sullivan, Pioneer Energy chief executive Fraser Jonker and Pioneer Energy project manager ...

A $10m irrigation scheme near Alexandra, Central Otago, is going to deliver water to about 1800 hectares of barren land.

Gecko stolen from visitor centre

The Marlborough green gecko that was stolen from the Fiordland National Park Visitor Centre in Te Anau.

An at risk gecko has been stolen from the DoC visitor centre in Fiordland.

Ad Feedback