Date posted: 23/01/2017 3 min read

Meet New Zealand’s new Controller and Auditor-General

In this Q&A, Acuity chats with Martin Matthews FCA, New Zealand’s newly elected Controller and Auditor-General

In brief

  • Martin Matthews FCA will take up the position of New Zealand's Controller and Auditor-General on February 1, 2017
  • Martin Matthews FCA will succeed Lyn Provost FCA in the role of Controller and Auditor-General in New Zealand
  • Formal accountability regimes are increasingly being displaced in the so-called “post truth” era we now live in

Can you give us a quick outline of the career path that has taken you from the NZ Audit Office in 1979 through to becoming Controller and Auditor-General?

I joined the Audit Office in 1979 as a bursar straight out of school in Napier. I did a BA (hons) in economics at Otago University and completed my accountancy qualifications at Canterbury University while working as an auditor in Christchurch.

I moved to Wellington in 1986 to take up a policy role and was promoted to Assistant Auditor-General in 1990, at age 29. I variously held the portfolios responsible for central government, performance audits and parliamentary matters.

In 1998 I took up the position of chief executive of the Ministry for Culture and Heritage (MCH), a role I had for ten years – most of which was working with the then Prime Minister Helen Clark who was also Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage.

In 2008 I was appointed Secretary for Transport and chief executive of the Ministry of Transport, a position I held until June 2016. Since then I have been working as an independent consultant working in government and in transport technology.  I will take up the position of Controller and Auditor-General on February 1, 2017.

What interests and passions have guided you through your career?

My focus, in all my roles over the years, has been about lifting the performance and capability of the organisations I have led – ensuring they are delivering results for citizens.

I am someone who sees opportunities rather than obstacles and who has always asked if we can do things more effectively rather than simply maintain the status quo. I think this is very important, especially in the public sector. We’re using the resources and rights that citizens have entrusted to us, so we have an obligation to always be looking for ways to be more effective and efficient.

I believe that people typically get up and come to work every day with the intent to do their best. My job as a leader is to help create the conditions for them to do this.

Have there been any guiding principles or strongly held beliefs that have influenced you?

I have what I refer to as my “North Star”, which is four ideas or statements. I think it is very important to have a clear sense of what you stand for, especially in leadership roles. We often understand these things implicitly, but I have also found it useful to be explicit about the things that guide me. The four ideas are:

  • I will always act with integrity. Doing the right thing, and being seen and known for doing the right thing, matters to me.
  • I will always treat others as they would expect to be treated. I will be fair, reasonable and understanding of other people’s perspectives.
  • I will always play the long game – whatever happens today, the sun will rise tomorrow.
  • I am here to make a difference – to make the world a better place.

What do you feel you have yet to achieve in your career?

I have had an ambition to hold the position of Auditor-General since I joined the office at aged 18 as a bursar. That ambition is driven by a very strong sense of the constitutional importance of the role, and the impact this office can have on improving the overall performance and accountability of government.

The office is in good shape and, in this regard, I want to acknowledge the fine job that my predecessor Lyn Provost FCA has done. I want to build on this foundation and ensure the office is playing a much stronger role in shaping the thinking about what public management and accountability must be like as we head towards the second quarter of the 21st century. It is time for some new thinking on these matters.

Our current regimes are now nearly 30 years old, and I am not convinced they will remain “fit for purpose” for much longer.
Martin Matthews, New Zealand's new Controller and Auditor-General

Our current regimes are now nearly 30 years old, and I am not convinced they will remain “fit for purpose” for much longer. I think our formal accountability regimes are increasingly being displaced in the so-called “post truth” era we now live in, where citizens in some countries are now more likely to form views about governmental performance from non-authoritative sources on social media.

Effective accountability of governments is important if we are to maintain public trust and confidence in government, a critical requirement for an effective democracy and civil society.