Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier has sided with the Government over its refusal to release a coalition document between Labour and NZ First, saying that Jacinda Ardern has it as the Labour Party leader and not as Prime Minister.
The Opposition has been hounding ministers over the 33-page document, demanding that the public have a right to know what is in it and reminding the Government of its commitment to openness and transparency.
But Ardern has maintained that it is not official information, and that any policy will be released if and when that policy is officially adopted by the Government.
NZ First leader Winston Peters alluded to the document in late October, saying that Ardern would eventually release it.
He described 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."
A Newsroom request for the document under the Official Information Act was declined, saying the document did not hold any official information. It was appealed to the Chief Ombudsman, whose provisional decision was made public this morning.
Newsroom reported that Boshier said in his decision the document contained discussion points for negotiations, but did not contain directives to ministers.
Boshier said he was satisfied that the information was held by Ardern "solely in her capacity as Leader of the New Zealand Labour Party".
Ardern's office had told Boshier: "It has played no part in policy decisions, and is not available to ministers as reference material when making official decisions."
Newsroom has made further submissions to the Chief Ombudsman, arguing for the document's release.
Boshier said today that the decision was a provisional one and stressed that his office was still investigating.
"I want to do a thorough job on this investigation. Any suggestion that I have reached a conclusion on this issue is premature."
Boshier said Ombudsmen's investigations followed a pattern.
"As with all cases, I investigate, form a provisional opinion and then seek the views of the people who have requested the information.
"In this particular case, I received the requesters' comments last night and I plan to consider their points carefully before I issue a final opinion."
Ardern did not want to comment until Boshier made his final decision.
"It is a provisional decision. Until it's a final decision, I want to make sure that I leave my comment to them because there is still a bit of a progress to go."
She said the issue was not what was in the document, but whether it was official information.
She did not think it was necessary to talk to Peters about mischaracterising the document as a directive to ministers.
"That was some time ago. I don't feel the need to do that."