10 Apr 2024

The well-worn path between Auditor-General and Parliament

From The House , 6:55 pm on 10 April 2024

Among the list of submitters and subjects for this week’s select committee hearings at Parliament, the Auditor-General’s office features often.

The Auditor-General is one of the three Officers of Parliament, entities who have a particular job to hold the government to account. As this week's committee action shows, the Auditor-General has a busy working relationship with Parliament that is set to deepen with the new provisions for extra scrutiny of government that stem from the last Parliament's Standing Orders review. 

Portrait woman posing, with magnifying glass in front of her eye. (Photo by Double Touch / Photononstop / Photononstop via AFP)

Photo: Photononstop

The Auditor-General's work provides Parliament with an independent view of how public organisations are operating. And there are a lot of them to keep an eye on: every single public service entity.


"There are about four-thousand, and a good two and a half [-thousand] of those are schools. So that's a very wide range, says Mark Evans, the Auditor-General’s Director Sector Engagement, Parliamentary Group.

"From small entities like schools and cemetery boards to the very large departments like MBIE [Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment] and MPI [Ministry of Primary Industries] and other large crown entities."

What the Auditor-General's office looks at is not simply the financial information.

"So the financial statements, assurance that money is being spent as it should be, but also what's being achieved with that money. So how do we know if it's being spent as it was supposed to, but also what's the result."

In order to gauge the effectiveness of public organisations, the Auditor-General's office has many inquiries and reports on the go at any one time. Often these reports are considered by MPs in relevant select committees, or the Auditor-General's staff come to Parliament to discuss their findings with the committees.

For example, this week, the Finance and Expenditure Committee has been considering an Auditor-General's report titled 'Making infrastructure investment decisions quickly'; the Governance and Administration committee digested the Auditor-General's 'Insights into local government 2021' report as well as its report into the Auckland Council's preparedness for responding to an emergency; meanwhile the Economic Development, Science and Innovation committee is tomorrow due to hear from Auditor-General officers about their General Inquiry into Callaghan Innovation's procurement process.

Enhanced scrutiny

Evans says performance audits, where a team of Auditor-General staff "drill down into a specific area", and inquiries into specific issues, sometimes at the request of MPs, are in addition to the regular contact with Parliament's select committees. 

"So we've got a team of people who are in close contact with the select committees, and have a well-worn path between here and Parliament.

"We do over a hundred briefs throughout the year on annual reviews alone at budget time. So we support the scrutiny of the estimates. And now we had changes in Standing Orders in 2023 which set in place a different approach in scrutiny planning," Evans explains, adding that it has helped foster a change in culture around scrutiny.

“Having the time to ask the questions, to follow up on the first line of inquiry. With the planned approach, it means that the organisations involved can think more about what their answers will be. It’s not so much finding an issue of the day, but understanding what’s going to happen in the future. I think those changes to scrutiny [are] all about trying to enable a longer term focus, trying to get an understanding of: are we better off tomorrow than we were yesterday, and having the right information to be able to make that assessment.”

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