The Public Records Act 2005 (PRA)
Public sector organisations in New Zealand have always kept records of their activities.
However, until the introduction of the Public Records Act 2005 (PRA), there were no general legislative requirements for what information and records needed to be created and how they should be managed.
The PRA sets out a regulatory framework for information management across the public sector. Its primary purpose is to enable the accountability and transparency of government decision-making by ensuring organisations create and maintain full and accurate records of their activities.
The PRA also establishes the statutory role and duties of the Chief Archivist. These include:
- exercising a leadership role for IM across public offices;
- setting standards for public sector IM;
- authorising organisations to dispose of records when they are no longer needed for business purposes; and
- providing advice and support for organisations so they can comply with the requirements of the PRA.
Two types of organisations are covered by the PRA, each with different compliance requirements. These are public offices and local authorities. A wide range of organisations are public offices, including government departments, district health boards, Crown entities, state owned enterprises, school boards of trustees, and government ministers.
Regional councils and territorial authorities are local authorities under the PRA, as are council-controlled organisations, council-controlled trading organisations and local government organisations.
Archives New Zealand as a regulator
The PRA establishes the Chief Archivist as an independent information regulator within government.
In delivering this role, we have responsibility for supporting, monitoring and directing the sector to facilitate compliance with IM requirements.
We regulate approximately 3,000 public offices and local authorities (including around 2,500 school boards of trustees). These organisations vary widely in their size, complexity, access to funding, staffing levels, and the number of functions they carry out.
These factors all affect the level of IM maturity in organisations, as well as the level of risk associated with not being able to find or access information that has been created.
Ongoing assessment of public office status
Archives New Zealand monitors change in the structure of the public sector to ensure that we and regulated organisations correctly understand the extent of our regulatory responsibilities.
When we formally assess an organisation, we examine how it was established and structured to determine whether it comes within the PRA’s definition of public office or local authority. We advise the organisation of our conclusions and inform them of their responsibilities under the PRA.
We work with new and newly-restructured public offices to determine how they can best meet their requirements under the PRA in a way that is compatible with the intent of their functions and organisational structure.
This will often involve collaboration and agreement between departmental agencies and host departments, or between contractors and the contracting department. We will also start work with new organisations to ensure they have disposal authorisation.
Some assessments are straight-forward because the organisation’s status is very clear. Others are complex and require the use of a legal Crown control weighting test.
Examples of public office status assessments
This company was recently set up to accelerate low emissions investment. After applying the Crown control weighting test, we concluded there was sufficient ministerial control over the company to make it an agency or instrument of the executive branch of Government and therefore a public office under the PRA.
The Office for Māori Crown Relations, Te Arawhiti, is a departmental agency established under the State Sector Act 1988 and hosted by the Ministry of Justice. Departmental agencies are designed to be operationally autonomous but are legally not distinct public offices and remain part of the host department for PRA purposes.
Departmental agencies and hosts have flexibility in how their working arrangements are set. We are working with Te Arawhiti and the ministry to ensure the IM arrangements meet the purposes of the PRA, support Te Arawhiti’s autonomy and functions, and ensure the ministry’s host department responsibilities can be met.
The Ministry for Primary Industries asked us to check the status of this company, known as FishServe. On the face of it, FishServe, as a privately owned company, appeared not to be a public office.
A full assessment concluded that FishServe, in its role as an approved service delivery organisation under the Fisheries Act 1996, is a public office within the period of its 2013 to 2023 contract. However, it is only a public office within the parameters of its role as an approved service delivery organisation.