Part 3: About inquiry agencies

Public sector accountability through raising concerns.

In this Part, we:

  • identify the many organisations, including inquiry agencies, that are responsible for aspects of New Zealand's public sector accountability; and
  • discuss common activities of inquiry agencies, what they can do to help, and what they can look into.

Our "map" of inquiry agencies

When we started this work, we expected to be able to create a clear "map" of the many organisations that administer public sector accountability arrangements. Doing so proved more difficult than we had anticipated.

We searched legislation for the word "review". Our search returned 783 pieces of legislation. We worked through each piece of legislation and identified 399 different ways (or functions) to challenge or complain about an action or decision of private and public entities.

Some functions were in more than one piece of legislation, and we found more than 90 inquiry agencies and other organisations responsible for administering those functions. We did not find an explanation or guide that helped us to make sense of the various functions, officials, agencies, and organisations that deliver them.

Figure 2 is our summary of New Zealand's accountability arrangements. It shows the many organisations responsible for public sector accountability arrangements. It also includes private sector and personal activities.

For the purposes of our work, we focused on organisations with public sector accountability roles or functions. These inquiry agencies are external to the original decision-making entity.

The other parts of our summary are:

  • public entities – in the first instance, people should go directly to the public entity they have a grievance with and use its complaint and review processes;
  • Parliament − people can raise concerns with elected representatives and Parliamentary select committees, and contribute to processes that could improve the matters they are dissatisfied with;
  • courts and tribunals − people can use the justice system to try to get certain decisions amended or to hold people to account for their actions; and
  • public or private activities − people can share their concerns by talking to journalists, placing advertisements, organising petitions, sharing their stories on social media platforms, hiring lobbyists, or taking other action.

Activities, powers, and functions of inquiry agencies


The inquiry agencies' usual activities when they are carrying out their accountability roles include:

  • considering complaints about the conduct of public entities and their employees;
  • reviewing decisions of a public entity (especially whether a proper process was followed);
  • investigating, or carrying out an inquiry into, the activities of a public entity; or
  • mediating in disputes between people and public entities.

Many inquiry agencies carry out more than one of these activities, and some carry out other activities, such as providing advocacy support for complainants or making recommendations about the conditions of detention facilities.


If an inquiry agency finds that a public entity has done something wrong, then, depending on the inquiry agency's powers, it could:

  • change or reverse the decisions of the public entity;
  • order the public entity to act (such as require the original decision-making entity to reconsider its decision); or
  • publish a report with its findings and any recommendations for change.

For example, the Gambling Commission can overturn the decisions of the public entities that it oversees (and order changes to be made). The Customs Appeal Authority can order the return to owners of items that the New Zealand Customs Service has seized.

We have the power to report on what we find when we agree to carry out an inquiry. Our inquiry reports often include recommendations that are intended to help public entities improve their systems or processes.

Figure 2
Organisations that administer New Zealand's public sector accountability arrangements

Smaller version of Figure 2 - Organisations that administer New Zealand's public sector accountability arrangements.

Larger version of Figure 2 as an image | PDF of Figure 2 | Text version of Figure 2

Note: We have compiled this chart and the grouping of organisations within it. The information is not legal advice and should not be relied on as such.


The governing legislation of an inquiry agency defines its public sector accountability functions and which public entities it can look into. Figure 3 lists the inquiry agencies (within our mandate) that we identified and the government functions that they focus on.

Figure 3
Government functions for inquiry agencies

Government functionsInquiry agencies
Activities common to most public entities

Acting and making decisions in a way that is fair, responsible, lawful, and consistent with human rights and other treaties.

(Most of these agencies can also look into matters in the other functional areas listed below.)
Director of Human Rights Proceedings

Human Rights Commission

New Zealand Police

Office of the Controller and Auditor-General

Office of the Ombudsman

Office of the Privacy Commissioner

Serious Fraud Office

State Services Commissioner
Commercial and primary industry

Regulating commercial activities and primary industries, such as agriculture and fishing.
Alcohol Regulatory and Licensing Authority

Catch History Review Committee

Film and Literature Board of Review

Gambling Commission

Maritime Appeal Authority
Detention of people

Detaining people in corrections or care facilities.
Health and Disability Commissioner

Human Rights Commission

Independent Police Conduct Authority

Inspector of Corrections

Office of the Children's Commissioner

Office of the Ombudsman

Providing education to the public.
International Student Contract Disputes Resolution Scheme Student Allowance Appeal Authority

Protecting and conserving New Zealand's natural resources, or acting in a way that does not damage the environment.
Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment
Government administration and support (including care of children)

Making decisions about people's obligations (such as paying tax) and rights (such as the ability of immigrants and refugees to live in New Zealand).

Providing support to people in need (such as financial and housing support and legal aid).
Benefits Review Committee

Community Housing Regulatory Authority under the Housing Restructuring and Tenancy Matters Act 1992

Government Superannuation Appeals Board

Grievance panels for Child, Youth and Family residence(s)

Medical Board under the Social Security Act 1964

Office of the Children's Commissioner

Review Authority under the Legal Services Act 2011

Social Security Appeal Authority

Taxation Review Authority

Veterans' Entitlement Appeal Board

Providing health care to the public or support to injured people.
Accident Compensation Appeal Authority

District Inspector appointed under the Intellectual Disability (Compulsory Care and Rehabilitation) Act 2003

District Inspector appointed under the Mental Health (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Act 1992

FairWay Resolution Limited

Health and Disability Commissioner

Medicines Review Committee

Mental Health Review Tribunal under the Mental Health (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Act 1992

Office of the Complaints Investigator (ACC)

Psychoactive Substances Appeals Committee
Land, property, and local government

Regulating how people use their land or property and community resources.
Valuation Appeal Committee
Safety and security

Looking after the safety and security of people, including crime prevention, dealing with national security threats, and regulating unsafe goods.
Customs Appeal Authority

Independent Police Conduct Authority

Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security

New Zealand Police