Department of Internal Affairs Legal Team

Team overview: Te Tari Taiwhenua Department of Internal Affairs

The Legal Team at Te Tari Taiwhenua Department of Internal Affairs supports the work of the lead agency for Government ICT. They share insights into their two teams, how they approach the ever-increasing demand for services and the team culture they have developed to attract and retain talent.

Pictured (left - right): Fran Rigby, Monica Patel, Michelle de Villiers, Jonathan Bass, Tania Nedelcheva-Pearson, Vicki Scott, Susan Arcus, Tim Whiteley, Alexandra Holt, Vatau Sagaga, Simon Barr. Inset: Andrea Speir, Chief Legal AdvisorAbsent: Clare O’Connor, Tamsyn Badland, Ravi Casinader and Daniel Mumford.

Can you give us an overview of the legal function of Te Tari Taiwhenua Department of Internal Affairs and how it supports the work of the organisation?

Te Tari Taiwhenua/The Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) has responsibility for a wide range of functions. It serves as the lead agency for government ICT and has responsibility for passports, citizenship, the registration of births, deaths and marriages, charities, the National Library, Archives, and the Lake Taupō Harbourmaster, to name a few. DIA is also responsible for the gambling and anti-money laundering regulatory systems and has responsibility for investigating and prosecuting offences relating to child sexual abuse material. There are 16 lawyers in the Legal Services Team/Ngā Ratonga Ture working in two teams - the Policy and Regulatory Team and the Corporate and Commercial Team. We report to Andrea Speir, our Chief Legal Advisor (CLA).

The Corporate and Commercial Team focuses on positioning DIA to achieve good outcomes from contracts and commercial arrangements and enabling best practice in corporate processes and systems. The Policy and Regulatory Team advises on legislative design and drafting, supports effective regulatory practice across DIA’s regulatory systems and manages and conducts a range of litigation on behalf of DIA. Our role also includes providing assurance to our Chief Executive that legal risk is identified and managed appropriately.

What does the team do to build and enhance the influence of the in-house legal function across the organisation?

Influence starts with credibility – ensuring quality legal advice informed by our internal clients’ context is the starting point. Being accessible and responsive is also important. We are mindful of our role as legal experts, but we look to contribute beyond this as problem solvers and enablers.

Relationships are also critical. Andrea Speir, as CLA, maintains close connections with DIA’s senior leadership teams and as a team we’re increasingly operating a relationship manager approach with our key client groups to better understand their context and the issues that arise for them.

As part of our assurance role, we participate in internal advisory and oversight groups contributing to governance and capability. We use the intel we gain to provide targeted training for our internal clients and we keep across emerging issues and risks through connections to the Government Legal Network. We also use internal communication channels to update people on relevant issues and to increase our visibility to our organisation.

What do you see as the key challenges facing the team and how do you plan to address these?

The ongoing challenge is meeting the ever-increasing demand for our services and prioritising our resources – particularly challenging in a department with a range of functions serving several different Ministers. Recently we have developed a ‘service offering’ to keep us focused on those areas where we add the most value – and challenged ourselves to let go of the rest.

Attracting and retaining great people is an ongoing focus. Te Tari Taiwhenua prides itself on being a people-centred organisation – both for our staff and for the New Zealanders we serve. We value collegiality and flexibility and have a diverse team with a broad range of working arrangements, including team members permanently based in Christchurch and Dunedin. To promote collegiality we look for opportunities for bite-sized fun - many and varied ways of connecting as a team whether that is art tours at Parliament, walking meetings or social breakfasts. We also have monthly mātāpono awards where we recognise people for demonstrating DIA’s values. With such a wide variety of work there is no shortage of opportunities to learn on the job, and we encourage our people to think broadly about training and development opportunities. For example, several of the team (Māori and non-Māori) have attended intensive in person training delivered by Mahi a Atua where participants learn to be change agents using Māori pūrākau, practices and values back to their lives and work.

Are there any changes or new technologies the team is planning to roll out in the next 12 months?

As a team we are building our knowledge management resource – the wiki. We’ve put a lot of work into capturing our collective knowledge in a way that enables the team to work faster and smarter.

We are also investigating a couple of document automation tools, and looking forward to being able to pilot or roll out the use of at least one of these in 2023.