Ombudsman backs Govt over coalition document in final ruling

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters spoke to the Chief Ombudsman this week about the Government's secret coalition document. Photo: Lynn Grieveson.

The Government will not have to release a 33-page coalition document, after a ruling from Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier that it does not qualify as official information.

In his final opinion, Boshier said the document had not been used by ministers - although he acknowledged Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters’ public comments “may have created an impression” that it was being used in an official way.

Peters first revealed the existence of the document in late October after signing New Zealand First’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.

Boshier’s final ruling largely echoes his provisional opinion issued earlier this week, in which he said the document had “played no part in policy decisions, and is not available to Ministers as reference material when making official decisions”.

However, following further submissions from Newsroom about Peters’ public comments, Boshier said he had spoken to the Deputy Prime Minister to clarify his remarks.

“It could be that the Deputy Prime Minister’s comments may have created an impression that the information contained in the requested document has been used in a way which makes it official information.”

Peters had told him the document did not include any guidance or directives to ministers and had not been used by him in any official capacity since he was sworn in.

The document was created on Parliamentary Service technology during negotiations and had since been “securely stored” by New Zealand First, Peters told Boshier.

“It is clear to me that, having read the document, it contains a collection of points made by the parties on various issues during the negotiation process,” Boshier said in a letter accompanying his decision.

“Some of the points raised in the document clearly were not agreed upon by the parties, as this document did not form part of the final coalition agreement.”