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Insights and Observations: The Chief Ombudsman's report on extreme weather events 2023

Peter Boshier
Issue date:
New Zealand Sign Language,
Te reo Māori

View the summary in New Zealand Sign Language

Excerpt from the foreword

The start of 2023 saw New Zealand battered by a series of extreme weather events that ravaged the North Island. [1] Like many New Zealanders, I was shocked and deeply dismayed by the utter devastation. Homes, businesses, communities, and sadly, family members were lost to the storms.

The recovery from these events will be a monumental undertaking. The affected areas are significant—in size, and in population. Nearly half of all New Zealanders live in these regions, an incredible number of people when it comes to providing support to recover, and assurance for the future. The scale of this work should not be underestimated.

Thinking on this, I could not help but look back on the Canterbury earthquakes, and how difficult the recovery was for the people in that region and the nation as a whole. That catastrophe showed how unprepared the country was for a major disaster. When COVID-19 hit, New Zealand was again forced to adapt as best we could. I knew the response to, and recovery from, the North Island weather events would not be straightforward.

The role of Ombudsman is an important one when it comes to the day-to-day running of the country in terms of providing checks and balances. In times of crisis, it is critical for the public to know I am here to help make sure the government’s treatment of all New Zealanders is fair and equitable.

In our rapidly changing world, decisions need to be made quickly. There is public expectation that solutions will be forthcoming and clear, and that action will be taken quickly. Now is the time to look at our model for how New Zealand prepares for and copes with disaster. Scientific modelling shows that extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and severe. We must do better to be ready for the next big event.

I decided it was important for me hear about people’s experiences first-hand, by visiting the areas affected. I wanted to do two things. Firstly, to let people know I am listening, and to let them know about their right to complain about government decisions that impact their lives. Secondly, I wanted to get an indication of what complaints to me could look like, and to provide guidance to government agencies to help them meet public expectations and avoid the need for complaints. I hope my presence was a reminder to those agencies about their obligations, and my expectations that they meet their administrative responsibilities in a fair and equitable manner. I also wanted them to know I am here to support them and encourage good practice.

The communities, iwi, and local and central government agencies we visited were incredibly generous with their time and all were very candid. All of their reflections will help me in my work.

The purpose of this report is to share at least some of what I heard, explain where the Ombudsman can assist, and what my expectations are. It is not the result of an Ombudsman investigation—it does not contain formal findings and recommendations for change—but it does highlight some of the major challenges ahead in responding to these and future disasters. I hope my insights help inform other inquiries and reviews that are underway.


[1] I would like to acknowledge here that, although my visits focused on the areas of the North Island most severely hit during 2023, the upper South Island also experienced devastating weather during 2022. As I write, more extreme weather has struck the Gisborne area. Return to text

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