The Department of Internal Affairs

Te Tari Taiwhenua | Department of Internal Affairs

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Resource material › Our Policy Advice Areas › History of the Minister of Internal Affairs' oversight of New Zealand's fire service

Since the start of the 20th Century the government has overseen New Zealand’s urban and rural fire services, with the Minister of Internal Affairs, supported by the Department of Internal Affairs, having a key role in that oversight.

Fire Brigades Act 1906

The Fire Brigades Act 1906 allowed fire boards to be set up to manage fire brigades. As the Act required fire insurance companies, territorial authorities and central government to fund fire boards, the government had to ensure that the money was properly spent. Fire boards’ budgets were accordingly required to be approved by the Minister of Internal Affairs.

The Act created the office of the Inspector of Fire Brigades who reported to the Minister on the functioning of fire brigades and fire boards.

Fire Services Act 1949

By 1949 there were around 45 fire boards, in effect each operating independently.

In response to concern from the Inspector about the efficiency of the smaller fire boards, the Fire Services Act 1949 was passed. This set up the Fire Service Council which took over the Minister’s responsibility for the efficient functioning of urban fire authorities.

The Council was responsible to the Minister for the oversight of urban fire authorities and their brigades. The creation of the Council allowed the Department of Internal Affairs to concentrate on policy issues concerning fire, and assist the Minister monitor the Council. The Council approved each fire board’s budget and in turn the Council’s budget was approved by the Minister.

New Zealand Fire Service Commission and Fire Service Levy

There had been calls since at least the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the 1947 Ballantyne & Co fire in Christchurch for a unified urban fire service. However it was not until 1976 that the large number of urban fire authorities and the Fire Service Council were merged to form today’s New Zealand Fire Service Commission. When first established the Minister approved the Commission’s budget. This period also saw the introduction of the Fire Service levy paid by those taking out fire insurance, set at a rate determined by the Minister.

Responsibility for Forest and Rural Fires

In 1991 responsibility for the Forest and Rural Fires Act 1977 was transferred from the Minister of Forestry to the Minister of Internal Affairs. This also saw the New Zealand Fire Service Commission take on additional responsibilities as the National Rural Fire Authority. As the Authority, the Commission has a strategic and oversight role for rural fire control but not for the operational responsibilities of individual rural fire authorities.

Rural fire authorities are independent entities responsible for fire control in rural fire districts. They can take various forms, including territorial authorities, government Ministers and committees, comprising a range of rural fire stakeholders.

Crown Entities Act 2004

With the Crown Entities Act 2004, the Minister no longer approves the Commission’s budget (which includes that of the National Rural Fire Authority) but maintains oversight of the government’s interests. Each year the Minister formally communicates the government’s expectations to the Commission and the Commission reflects these in its annual statement of intent.

The Department of Internal Affairs supports the Minister by providing advice on urban and rural fire services in general, including the annual setting of the Fire Service Levy, and on the Minister’s particular responsibilities for the Fire Service Commission and the National Rural Fire Authority.

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