6 Apr 2016

Ombudsman eyes funding for complaints fast-track

From Nine To Noon, 9:30 am on 6 April 2016

The Office of the Ombudsman is seeking an extra $2.6 million to clear a backlog of complaints and speed up their handling in future, Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier says.

Judge Peter Boshier

Judge Peter Boshier Photo: RNZ/Zoe George

Judge Boshier, formerly a Principal Family Court Judge, acknowledged the office had a reputation for being too slow when adjudicating on complaints relating to Official Information Act requests, and how people are treated by public agencies.

"We have a lot of work coming, and so we should, and my aim is to do what I tried to do in the Family Court and that is to recognise that people want their lives to move on quickly," he told Nine to Noon

He said the office still had a backlog, including 650 cases that were older than 12 months.

Judge Boshier said his goal was to have all complaints resolved within a year.

"So I want to within three months do a big, alternative resolution push; I want to get 70 percent of all of our matters dealt with in the first three months.

"There will be a lot of working in real time, a lot of phoning, a lot of cajoling, a lot of trying to see if people can agree on a solution."

Judge Boshier also explained his reasoning for forcing the Prime Minister to release his text communications with the gossip columnist Rachel Glucina, over the pony-tail pulling controversy.

He said information, photos, emails, and texts that has been held, or were now held by a department, organisation or minister in an official capacity.

"So it is very, very broad - it can cover everything ... and there's a bit of warning there for people who might think certain things are sacred."

Judge Boshier said journalists corresponding with ministers needed to be aware those communications could be "OIA-able".

He said that when he considered the Glucina case, there was nothing in the very short text that suggested it should have been viewed as confidential, or that it would come under the category of "free and frank advice".

"The text was short and sweet. It was gratuitous observation which probably the textor should have known."

Judge Boshier said the office had requested more funding to be able to get on top of the backlog and deal with complaints in future.

"I'm really, really encouraged that our wish has been granted and will now go to Parliament to be decided on Budget Day, but the recommendation is that we're funded about another $2.6 million, so we're in for interesting times."

He said if the funding was approved, it would be available from 1 July.