4 October 2017

Fifty-five years ago ( 1 October 1962 ) New Zealand appointed its first Ombudsman.  This was the first such appointment outside of Scandinavia.  Empowered by Parliamentary Commissioner (Ombudsman) Act 1962, a “simple” 29 section Act, the Ombudsman was charged with investigating and reporting to Parliament on maladministration in Departments of State.  The Ombudsman could respond to a complaint or act on his own motion.   A process of reporting findings to the relevant agency or to the relevant Minister and including recommendations in the Annual Report remain a core aspect of the current Ombudsman’s Act.  It was a further 20 years before the Official Information Act extended the jurisdiction to enforce the provisions of the Official Information Act. Subsequently the Office took on responsibilities under the Protected Disclosures Act and the Crimes of Torture Act.

The Schedule to the Parliamentary Commissioner (Ombudsman) Act listed the “Government Departments” to which the Act applied and “Other Organisations”.  The Schedule reflects how much the machinery of government has changed over the intervening 55 years.

There were 43 Departments – without distinguishing between Public Service departments and those that were not Public Service; eg the Air Department, Army Department and Navy Department, Police Department, NZ Government Railways Department, Post Office, State Fire and Accident Insurance Office,  NZ Government Life Insurance Office, and Tourism and Publicity Department were listed.  The Law Drafting Office and the Legislative Department were separate agencies, the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research was undivided, the Department of Justice was still monolithic, as was the Works Department, and the Public Service Commission which employed all public servants ( later to become the State Services Commission ). The Department of Maori Affairs, Maori Trust Office and Department of Island Territories had not been integrated, and so on.

A further 22 agencies were listed as Other Organisations.  These included the Government Stores Board, National Provident Fund Board, National Roads Board and so on, including parts of departments that were legally outside the direct control of the relevant Minister.

The Schedule included “The” in the title of every agency.

The first Ombudsman, Guy Powles (knighted in 1962) was a Wellington lawyer. As a colonel he commanded NZ Artillery in the Pacific theatre in 1944, before becoming a founding member of the Department of External Affairs working on issues arising from the surrender of Japan. Appointed  Governor of Samoa in 1949 he spent the next ten years preparing that territory for independence. He was the High Commissioner to India until becoming the Ombudsman in 1962 – a role he held for 15 years.

Peter Boshier, the incumbent Chief Ombudsman, is the eighth to hold that office.