Officers of Parliament are appointed by the governor-general on the recommendation of Parliament. They carry out inquiries and reviews on aspects of government activity. Officers of Parliament have existed in New Zealand since 1962, when the office of ombudsman was created. There are three officers of Parliament:
- the ombudsman
- the controller and auditor-general
- the parliamentary commissioner for the environment.
Officers of Parliament are directly responsible to Parliament rather than to the government of the day. For this reason, Parliament has decided that such positions should be created only rarely, when they can be truly justified.
Because of the need to safeguard officers’ independence, conventions have gradually developed over their establishment and methods of working. There is now a set of principles about when it is appropriate to create an officer, how officers are appointed and funded, and how they report to Parliament. New Zealand was the first country to develop comprehensive principles for its officers of Parliament.
The Officers of Parliament Committee, created in 1989, oversees the process of appointing an officer of Parliament. A parliamentary select committee, it is chaired by the Speaker, and all parliamentary parties are entitled to be represented on it. The committee appoints a person as an officer of Parliament only if all members are in agreement. This ensures that the officer has the confidence of the entire Parliament, not just one or two parties.
The Officers of Parliament Committee also approves the annual funding for officers of Parliament, after considering bids for funding from the officers themselves. Once the committee has agreed to the funding, the government automatically includes that amount in the budget.
Like judges, officers of Parliament have security of tenure. They can only be removed from office following a resolution of Parliament. They cannot be dismissed by the government just because it disagrees with their decisions. An officer’s reports to Parliament are automatically referred to the relevant select committee for consideration.