As I write, the 53rd Parliament is sitting under urgency to progress bills through the House. Next week is the last sitting week of this Parliament, culminating with the Adjournment Debate on 31 August. At 11 am on 8 September 2023, on the steps of Parliament and in the sight of any who wish to attend, the 53rd Parliament of New Zealand will be dissolved. Parliament will not meet again until the 54th Parliament has been opened after the general election on 14 October 2023.
And so begins the formal pre-election period. The business of governing continues, albeit while exercising restraint. The Government is, after all, the Government until it is not the Government. However, ministers will also be heavily occupied with the upcoming election, securing the opportunity to represent the people when the 54th Parliament is convened.
But what of the public servants? If the business of governing continues, so does the business of supporting those who govern, though direct contact with ministers is less frequent.
The frenetic pace of the last four years has taken its toll on the public sector. Responding to a pandemic, disinformation-fuelled occupations, floods, cyclones, housing crises, climate change impacts, cyber-security risks, and global uncertainty while dealing with their own personal stresses at home leaves a mark. Serving a public that is itself tired, stressed, and running out of patience is hard, often thankless, work.
I have been in or associated with the public service for over 30 years. I don’t think I can remember ever seeing people so mentally and physically exhausted. Yet these same people will be tasked with responding to the inevitable 100-day plan that accompanies any new government – whether re-elected or newly anointed. Our three-year election cycle means that a new government, of whatever hues, will be keen to hit the ground running. For those who will work directly with incoming ministers, the pre-election period provides an essential opportunity to refresh and re-energise. The strategic environment that greets the 54th Parliament will continue to be challenging, with no easy fixes in sight. Everyone will need plenty in the tank.
Liz MacPherson, IPANZ President
This article was published in the Public Sector Journal - Spring 2023, Issue 46.3.