Request for advice about SkyCity convention centre
Necessary to withhold strategy and bottom lines to enable the Crown to carry on negotiations with SkyCity—s 9(2)(j) applies
The Minister for Economic Development withheld advice regarding negotiations with SkyCity about funding a convention centre in Auckland under section 9(2)(j) of the OIA, and the requester complained to the Ombudsman.
The Ombudsman concluded that withholding some of the information (for example, the Crown’s strategy and bottom lines) was necessary to enable the Crown to carry on the negotiations without prejudice or disadvantage. In addition, if the SkyCity negotiations broke down, release of the information would give other potential bidders an unfair advantage by disclosing information about the Government’s position and the key areas of contention between the Government and SkyCity.
The Ombudsman acknowledged that ‘when business interfaces with government, there is a public interest in the transparency of the interaction’. Some information relating to the negotiations had already been disclosed, including the fact that SkyCity had asked the Government to consider some alterations to gambling regulations and legislation. Given the public concern about the social impact of casinos, there was a genuine public interest in matters which were the subject of the negotiation and the associated advice.
However, the advice reflected public assurances given by Ministers that ‘any proposed changes to gambling legislation would be subject to a full public submission process’. This would ensure that the outcome of any negotiations would be subject to full public scrutiny before any agreed changes could be implemented. The requested information was a ‘snapshot’ in the negotiation timeline. The Ombudsman did not consider that at that point (prior to the completion of the policy and negotiation process) the public interest in disclosure outweighed the reasons for withholding.
This case note is published under the authority of the Ombudsmen Rules 1989. It sets out an Ombudsman’s view on the facts of a particular case. It should not be taken as establishing any legal precedent that would bind an Ombudsman in future.