The Auditor-General at a glance

Councillors' guide to the Auditor-General.

The Controller and Auditor-General – more commonly known as the Auditor-General – is an officer of Parliament who audits all of New Zealand's public organisations.

As an officer of Parliament, the Auditor-General is independent of the Executive Government. The Government cannot tell the Auditor-General what to do or how to do it.

The Auditor-General has a Deputy who is also an officer of Parliament. The Deputy can perform all the functions and exercise all the powers of the Auditor-General.

The position of Auditor-General has been in place in New Zealand since the 1840s. The current role and functions are set out in the Public Audit Act 2001.

The Governor-General appoints the Auditor-General on the recommendation of the House of Representatives for a once-only seven-year term.

As an officer of Parliament, the Auditor-General is independent of the Executive Government. The Government cannot tell the Auditor-General what to do or how to do it.

This independent status, as set out in the Public Audit Act, ensures that the Auditor-General's investigations and views about the use of public money are objective and free from political influence. Having an impartial and independent "public watchdog" to provide a check on government spending is important.

The Auditor-General's staff work in two business units: the Office of the Auditor-General (the OAG) and Audit New Zealand. We call the whole organisation "the Office".

No other organisation has the overview of the whole public sector that the Auditor-General has.

By law, the Auditor-General is responsible for auditing about 3500 organisations, including:

  • councils and council-controlled organisations;
  • government departments;
  • Crown entities;
  • schools, universities, and polytechnics;
  • district health boards;
  • port and airport companies;
  • State-owned enterprises;
  • Crown Research Institutes;
  • electricity distribution companies; and
  • licensing trusts.

Collectively, we call these "public organisations".

The work of the Auditor-General is designed to give assurance to Parliament, public organisations, and the public that public organisations are fairly reflecting the results of their activities in their annual reports.

The Auditor-General and their staff may carry out inquiries into issues that arise from their audit work, a written concern, or a request for an inquiry. The Auditor-General is not obliged to act on a request. The final decision on whether to carry out an investigation into any particular issue rests with the Auditor-General. Sometimes, this will result in a major inquiry and public report, such as Inquiry into the procurement of work by Westland District Council at Franz Josef, published in March 2019.

Additionally, the Auditor-General keeps an eye on whether public organisations are carrying out their activities effectively and efficiently, and on matters of waste, probity, legislative compliance, and financial prudence in the public sector.

The Auditor-General reports findings and makes recommendations so that those with responsibility for making improvements can take action. This includes highlighting examples of good practice that can help improve public sector governance, management, and performance.

The Auditor-General does not have the power to enforce recommendations or to change or overturn decisions made by others. However, the independent and objective nature of the Auditor-General's work, the scrutiny by Parliament that it supports, and the ongoing contact between public organisations and the Auditor-General's staff sees most recommendations acted on.