Wednesday, March 03, 2021

Time for a new Ombudsman

The Ombudsman is supposed to be our core watchdog on administrative decision-making. Their central job is to review decisions by public agencies to ensure they are fair and reasonable and followed a proper process. So its more than a little embarrassing that they've been called to account by the courts for violating exactly those principles:

The High Court has quashed a decision made by Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier on the grounds that emails he sent to Parliament Speaker Trevor Mallard showed he did not have an open mind on an issue he was considering.

And the court has strongly suggested that reconsideration of the matter – about the use of the name Ombudsman by a dispute resolution service – be delegated to a temporary Ombudsman.


Grice said it was not improper in principle for the Chief Ombudsman to ask the Speaker to consider a move to better protect the name "Ombudsman" or to discuss the legislation.

But the timing and content of the emails "provide evidence which weighs heavily toward the fact that the Chief Ombudsman had closed his mind and was not amenable to persuasion".

Given their role, and their past experience as a judge, you'd expect Boshier of all people to have a proper decision-making process, and to avoid any display of partiality or predetermination. The fact that he didn't immediately calls all his other decisions into question. After all, if he fucked it up so blatantly in this case, what other decisions has he predetermined or been unfair on? What similar procedural deficiencies has he overlooked because he does it too? He's failed to abide by the principles his office is supposed to embody and enforce, and I think there's really only one appropriate response: he should resign.

(As for the underlying dispute - whether a private company gets to pass itself off as an ombudsman - I happen to agree with Boshier, and think Parliament should legislate if necessary to protect the name. But that doesn't excuse his improper process, or make his position any more tenable).