Story: Ombudsmen and officers of Parliament

Page 8. Parliamentary commissioner for the environment

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The office of parliamentary commissioner for the environment (PCE), established under the Environment Act 1986, came into existence on 1 January 1987. It was set up during reforms of environmental administration in the 1980s, which also resulted in the establishment of the Ministry for the Environment and the Department of Conservation.

The PCE is appointed for a five-year term, and may be reappointed. The PCE aims to maintain or improve the quality of the natural environment by providing independent advice to influence decisions made by public authorities.

PCE powers

The PCE has investigative powers to review systems and processes for the management, allocation, use and preservation of natural resources. The commissioner can inquire into the effectiveness of central and local government’s environmental planning and management.

Any matter that adversely affects the environment, whether this results from natural causes or human activity, can be investigated. The PCE also has a mandate to encourage preventive and remedial measures, and may recommend or advocate for policies or operational practices that safeguard the environment.

Submissions and advice

The PCE makes submissions to government when policies are being developed and to select committees when legislation with environmental implications is being considered. The PCE may act as an adviser when select committees and other bodies are carrying out inquiries or reviews.

Profits vs land care

One of the most influential reports produced by the PCE was Growing for good (2004). It tackled environmental issues relating to farming and suggested ways that it could become more sustainable. Published in the midst of growing controversy over farming methods such as industrial-style dairying, the report helped inform debate, especially in the rural sector.

Identifying issues

The PCE may identify an issue of environmental significance that warrants an investigation. Alternatively, the office may respond to an inquiry being carried out by another body by making a submission or assisting in some other way. A select committee, an organisation, or a member of the public may also alert the PCE to an environmental issue.


The PCE reports the results of investigations to Parliament and the public. There have been reports on environmental stewardship of the South Island high country, the environmental benefits of smart electricity meters and mining regulation. In 2011 work was under way on climate-change policy, transport fuels, the management of fresh water, soil conservation and aquaculture.

How to cite this page:

David McGee, 'Ombudsmen and officers of Parliament - Parliamentary commissioner for the environment', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 19 May 2022)

Story by David McGee, published 20 Jun 2012, updated 20 Jan 2017