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Our inquiry process

Our work | Inquiries

If you write to us, we'll acknowledge that we have received your request within a few days.

When we write back to people, we express thanks for the information. Sometimes, we can also provide some additional information, answer a question, or clarify something directly for the person who wrote to us.

Many people write to us when controversial issues are being discussed, suggesting that we will get involved to influence the entity’s decision. Examples include when local authorities are consulting their communities as they prepare their long-term plans or make significant decisions, or when an organisation is considering a significant change in direction or structure.

In these situations, we’ll note the information and perspective you’ve provided, but we are likely to write back to you to explain how you can contribute to the proper decision-making process.

If your concern is not suitable for an Auditor-General's inquiry, then we will reply to let you know that we cannot look at it. Where we can, we'll redirect you to another agency.

Our inquiries

When we consider an issue, we usually carry out some preliminary work to understand the nature and scope of the work and make a decision about whether to carry out an inquiry or do some other work.

Some inquiries can involve relatively straightforward issues and can often be carried out by a review of documents or through correspondence and discussion with the entity.

Other inquiries can be more significant, involving more complex issues that require in-depth work. We usually review the public entity’s files, may formally interview people, and will gather information from multiple sources. The Auditor-General has wide powers to request information.

Due to the nature of an inquiry, it can take weeks or months to complete an inquiry and report.

We will usually report the results publicly, as well as advising the correspondent of our conclusions.

Opportunity to comment

Before we finalise our views, we usually provide the people affected with an opportunity to comment. We do this to make sure that:

  • we understand and have correctly presented the facts; and
  • people directly affected by our views have the opportunity to comment on the conclusions we have reached.

The process we use for this opportunity to comment and how long it takes can vary, and depend on what’s required in each inquiry. The process is confidential and people get the opportunity to comment confidentially. This is important, so we don’t usually discuss whether we have asked people to comment or who those people are.

More on confidentiality

As a matter of policy, we apply the same approach to all the requests we receive. We think it is important that people should be able to ask us to look at whether a public entity is using its resources properly without fear or reprisal.

There are times when it is not possible to investigate a matter properly without it becoming obvious who has raised it. In such cases we will check with the correspondent before we proceed.

Given the confidential nature of most of our work, the Official Information Act 1982 does not apply to the Auditor-General. Instead, the Public Audit Act 2001 gives us a discretion on what information we will publicly release.

When a public sector employee raises a matter with us under the Protected Disclosures Act 2000, we are obliged to protect that person’s identity.

Our policy on public and media comment on current inquiries

If the media asks, we will confirm whether we have received a request for an inquiry and whether we're considering that request. For larger inquiries, we usually release public terms of reference.

However, we carry out inquiries in private. We do not provide public updates on progress or the substance of what we are doing, because this can hamper our work.

In each case, we decide what information we should release at the end of an inquiry about our findings and conclusions. We often publish our findings on our website. For larger inquiries, we will usually publish a report that is presented in Parliament.

Page last updated: 28 April 2017

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