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The environment in which we work

The Auditor-General's strategic intentions to 2025.

The world is changing rapidly, and with this come both challenges and opportunities for governments. The challenges can emerge from changes in society, technology, and the environment. Opportunities come from technology and other developments enabling previously unforeseen solutions for many of the most difficult public policy problems.

Around the world, there are signs that people are losing faith in their governments – protesting about decisions, elections, and representation. People are increasingly questioning the veracity and reliability of information, including information from sources they once trusted. In the future, current entity-based reporting on an annual cycle is unlikely to meet people's needs or maintain their trust. Trust and confidence in government is at the heart of every democracy, so we need to start thinking differently about what constitutes effective accountability.

At the same time, we're experiencing changes in our society, our environment, and our economy. Like many western countries, we are facing an ageing population and other demographic changes from changing immigration patterns. We are also facing a wave of ageing infrastructure, including in regions where populations are stable or declining. Affordability is a real issue in some parts of the public sector.

We already know that, in most areas of public policy no agency can work alone to achieve the desired results. The need to work together will be further accentuated in the years ahead. Many communities are facing consequences of climate change that they will not be able to address alone. At the same time, people-centric services may lead to a greater need for central government to have a trusted local partner to deliver services. This may mean that central and local government will need to work together in different ways.

Alongside all this, technology is challenging and changing how people communicate, how services are delivered, how people expect to interact with government, and how government interacts with them.

Models of governance are also likely to change, especially in the "post-Treaty settlement" era, as are the boundaries between the public and other sectors. These changes, together with other changes in society, will bring other challenges if New Zealand is to preserve a high-integrity public sector environment.

In this challenging and changing environment, the role of the Auditor-General as "the public sector watch dog" is more important than ever. Our job is to tell it like it is, and we intend to continue to do this. But we see an opportunity to do more. We think it is important to understand and respond to changing future trends with some different thinking. We intend to use our unique and independent perspective to help shape future thinking. We will encourage more discussion and debate about New Zealand's current system of public management and accountability. It was modern and new in the late 1980s, but that was 30 years ago. And, although we continue to modify and enhance the current regime, it's timely to ask whether it will meet the needs of New Zealanders for the next 30 years:

  • What do New Zealanders expect the public sector to be accountable for?
  • Is the way that public entities account for what they do going to maintain the trust and confidence of New Zealanders?
  • What might be the features of an accountability system that supports learning, innovation, and continuous improvement?
  • How could accountability systems better support public and Parliamentary decision-making needs?
  • Do people want to know only about the performance of individual public entities when the services they receive come from a range of agencies working together?
  • Are people interested in how their town or city is doing, economically and socially?
  • Does it matter to New Zealanders whether services are provided by local or central government, non-governmental organisations, or the private sector?
  • What might a system of accountability look like if we completely redesigned it?

We consider that these are important questions to be asking. Our Office is one agency in the wider accountability system – we intend to engage with others to explore these and other questions, with a view to influencing the future of public accountability.

Given these questions, we will be thinking about the implications for:

  • the current accountability regime;
  • how the public sector is managed;
  • how we provide assurance;
  • how we focus on the right matters at the right time; and
  • how we get information to people in ways that they trust and find useful.
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CoverThe Auditor-General's strategic intentions to 2025

ISSN 2382 0829