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Consultation and submissions

There are many ways that community groups and NGOs can initiate action to tell government what they think about matters that are important to them and their communities.

These include:

  • writing letters
  • having meetings with MPs and government agencies
  • lobbying decision-makers
  • sharing views online
  • organising petitions or demonstrations
  • making an official information request to demonstrate interest in an issue
  • using the media to attract attention to a topic.

Sometimes the government will invite the public to have input on something. This is usually done through a formal, time-limited consultation process where government accepts public submissions on a specific topic.  Responding to such consultations is not always straightforward, as it can be a challenge to find out about the consultation and then the timeframe for input can often be short. Below are some tips, links and ideas to help you.

Workshop: Influencing Policy & Making Submissions

In mid-2016, 118 people from 87 small to medium-sized NGOs attended four NGO Network workshops in Christchurch, Wellington, Hamilton and Auckland. No further workshops are planned at this time, but some of the guidance from these is available from this webpage.

On this page:

Identify opportunities for input

  • Regularly check the government website where many (but not all) consultations are listed.
  • Register to receive alerts about legislation changes and Bills at Parliament's website
  • Subscribe to newsletters, RSS feeds, Twitter accounts etc of government agencies whose work you have an interest in (e.g. the NGO Desk Update from the Ministry of Health.)
  • Network with other like-minded organisations who can share news they hear and talk about what they are making submissions on.
  • Be part of specific networks/groups that are focused on being informed about consultation opportunities.

Preparing to make a submission - advice from a former public servant


Choose a format

Sometimes there is a legal requirement for government to consult (e.g: on a piece of legislation) and the parameters of this are often strictly defined – meaning your submission needs to focus on that and respond accordingly. With formal consultations, submissions are usually required in writing, but you can choose how to structure your document. Options include:

  • Responding on the formal submission form, which invites your answers to a range of questions – this can often be the preferred option of the agency running the submission as it makes it easier for them to collate and analyse responses.
  • Commenting clause by clause — use our clause template to help you complete a submission like this.
  • Covering specific areas of interest to you, which relate to the consultation focus.
  • Highlighting positives and negatives of the proposal (include your reasons why).
  • Writing a letter – some compelling examples of this style include submissions from the late John Angus and Richard Wood on the 2015 Productivity Commissions More Effective Social Services review.
  • A video, animation, infographic or other visual presentation is also worth considering.
  • A video, animation, infographic or other visual presentation is also worth considering.
    A poetry and song competition is another novel way to capture and share community views, as this example from the Problem Gambling Foundation of NZ shows.

Some government agencies publicise guidelines for submissions (examples include Creative NZ, the Ministry for the Environment, the Health Promotion Agency, the Environment Canterbury.)

Create compelling content

Advice on making written submissions


  • Keep your submission short and focussed
  • Use plain language
  • Be constructive – don’t get personal or confrontational
  • Offer new ideas/solutions/alternative options
  • Provide evidence – refer to examples/case studies (from NZ or overseas)
  • Use data wisely to show impact or potential cost savings
  • Describe how proposed changes will impact on individual New Zealanders – ie: clients, service users, customers, citizens – not only your organisation
  • Be up front about any conflicts of interest
  • Talk with colleagues/networks from other organisations about what they are submitting on and share ideas
  • Understand the scope of the consultation and keep to the point
  • Describe who you are and who you represent (eg: quantify your membership, numbers of clients you provide service to etc).

Read others’ submissions to get a feel for which approaches seem most effective to you – many government agencies post these online so you can see what others have said in past consultations. (There is a wide variety on the Productivity Commission website – which ones do you think convey their messages best and why?)

More useful guidance on how to deliver your messages clearly to government – in person or in writing – is on CommunityNet.

Demonstrate support for your views

There is strength in numbers, so be clear about who you represent and collaborate with others on issues of importance.

  • Describe the mandate or reach of your organisation – i.e:  membership numbers, numbers of clients you serve or people affected by the cause/issue you represent, etc.
  • Make a joint/collaborative submission with others – this can spread the load of writing the submission as well as demonstrating that you’ve talked the issue through with others and have wider support.
  • Avoid pro-forma type submissions – decision-makers perceive these as a photocopying exercise rather than a demonstration of widespread support for the views expressed. One submission from multiple organisations/individuals is more effective than having multiple people submit the exact same submission separately.
  • However, it can be helpful to provide some key phrases/points to allies to build their own submission around as long as they also include their own original content.

Value in collaboration


Making a submission to a Select Committee

Advice on making oral submissions


Select committees are groups of members of Parliament that examine specific matters in detail and report their findings to the House of Representatives. There are 13 different subject Select Committees and 5 specialist ones - membership reflects the balance of parties in the House.

The Select Committee submission process allows members of the public to have direct input into the parliamentary process by making written and oral submissions. This differs from a consultation process run by a government department as those submissions go to public servants in the first instance and may not ever reach elected Members.

The Office of the Clerk of the House of Representatives provides a useful 20-page guide on making a submission to a Parliamentary Select Committee.

Key points are:

  • A submission is an opportunity to present your views on a matter before a committee.
  • If you are sending in a written submission, you must supply two hard copies.
  • You can often make your submission online – find the relevant Bill on Parliament's website.
  • Keep your personal contact information out of the formal submission (i.e: only in the cover letter) – otherwise it will be released publicly.
  • Head your submission with the name of the select committee to which it is addressed and the full title of the bill.
  • Clearly indicate who the submission is from.
  • Indicate if you want to appear in person before the Committee to talk.
  • If your submission is on behalf of an organisation, give brief details of the organisation’s aims, membership, and structure.
  • Note how much support you have and how widely you have consulted while writing the submission.
  • Be relevant – stay on topic. Focus on the content of the Bill.

You can read current Bills at the Legislation website.

In your submission:

  • State your general position on the Bill – whether you support or oppose the measure being proposed, and give your reasons.
  • Make detailed comments on clauses that are of concern to you. Identify which clauses need to change (and reasons why). You might even suggest alternative wording.
  • Be clear – order your sentences logically.
  • Be short, simple and direct.
  • Be accurate – ensure your facts are correct.
  • Restate your recommendations in a conclusion at the end of the submission or an executive summary at the beginning.

If you don’t submit online – post two copies of your submission to:

Secretariat, x...................... Committee,
Select Committee Services,
Parliament Buildings, WELLINGTON 6160 

  • You'll have to pay for the postage.
  • Get it in by the deadline.
  • If you release your submission before the committee has received it, you will not have the protection of parliamentary privilege for any statements made in your submission.

You can find more guidance about making submissions at the Government's website.

Former public servant sums up advice


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