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New opinion - commercial witholding & public interest

The Ombudsman has published his opinion on a complaint by a residents’ association seeking access to an interim investigation report by the Ministry of Primary Industries into a salmon mortality event in the Pelorus Sound. Access was sought to enable the residents’ association to participate in the New Zealand King Salmon Board of Inquiry.

The opinion gives detailed consideration to the commercial withholding ground, and also the infrequently relied upon ground for withholding information in order to avoid prejudice to the substantial economic interests of New Zealand. It also addresses the public interest in disclosure to enable effective public participation in the board of inquiry process. You can read the full opinion here.

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Summary

Mr Andrew Caddie, on behalf of the Kenepuru and Central Sounds Residents’ Association, made a request to the Ministry for Primary Industries for reports held in respect of a mortality event in a salmon farm operated by the New Zealand King Salmon Company in Pelorus Sound. The Ministry disclosed to Mr Caddie part of its Interim Report on its investigation into the event, but withheld parts of it under sections 9(2)(b)(ii), 9(2)(ba)(i) and 9(2)(d) of the Official Information Act 1982 (OIA). These sections protect information respectively:

• where disclosure would be likely unreasonably to prejudice the commercial position of the supplier of the information;

• where information is subject to an obligation of confidence or statutory requirement for provision and disclosure would be likely to prejudice the supply of similar information in the future and it is in the public interest that it should continue to be supplied; and • where it is necessary to withhold in order to avoid prejudice to the substantial economic interests of New Zealand.

Based on the information before me, I have concluded that section 9(2)(b)(ii) provides good reason to refuse to release the last two lines of paragraph 32 from the Interim Report, all of paragraph 33 except for the first sentence, all of paragraph 34, and the contents of the appendix. I have also formed the opinion that sections 9(2)(b)(ii) and 9(2)(d) do not apply to the remaining information that the Ministry refused to disclose, and that even if these grounds were to apply, the public interest in disclosure outweighs the need to protect the information at issue.


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