Preparing for 2020 State Sector Legislation


An enduring focus for IPANZ has always been the principles and values of the New Zealand public sector.

The current state sector legislation does not include a consolidated statement of principles. Five principles of public service departments can be found in legislation, but these principles are currently scattered through the SSA (s1A, s32, s33, s60), and other Acts (Official Information Act 1982, Privacy Act 1993, and Public Records Act 2005). The new bill proposes a statement that can act as a point of identification and unity for the New Zealand Public Service.

In early 2020 you will have an opportunity to prepare submissions on the proposed Act. Later in 2020 we anticipate implementation of the new legislation. We all need to understand, debate, and enact these principles.

We have had a look through all the literature and believe that the September 2018 consultation document released by the State Services Commission, ‘New Zealand’s Public Service Belongs to You, The People of New Zealand’ gives a concise description of these principles.

Below, we have included an extract from that consultation document summarising those principles, and will update this when we know the final decisions.

Political neutrality

Political neutrality is the cornerstone of the Public Service. It requires the Public Service to provide consistent services, including policy development, for the Government of the day, while maintaining the trust that it can continue to serve successive Governments. Political neutrality requires the Public Service to understand and operate within the current political context without becoming involved in partisan competition.

A politically neutral Public Service is central to building the trust and confidence of the public. New Zealanders should be confident that their elected Government is professionally supported to develop and implement its policy, and that services will be delivered in accordance with those policies, regardless of whether the public servants involved personally support the policy or not.

Free and frank advice

Government decision-making benefits from free and frank advice, which is based solely on the facts and merits of an issue and which may be assertively put forward even when it is not welcomed. Free and frank advice is designed to support Ministers to achieve their objectives.

Free and frank advice ensures that Ministers individually and collectively are better informed about the benefits, costs, risks and uncertainties associated with the decisions they are being asked to take.

To be effective, free and frank advice depends on a relationship of trust and confidence between a Minister and officials responsible for the advice. This does not necessarily mean agreeing. In the end, it is Ministers who decide on policy. Once a decision is made, the Public Service must implement that decision effectively.

Merit selection

Appointments to the Public Service must be based on merit, which means appointing and promoting the person who is best suited to the position. Employment in the Public Service should not be tarnished by favouritism, nepotism or political considerations. Appointing and promoting on merit appears the most straightforward principle to implement. The reality is that merit is constrained when anyone is effectively excluded from applying for a position.

Considerations of gender, disability, sexual orientation and ethnicity have affected and continue to affect many New Zealanders. The Public Service needs to address inherent barriers to merit, such as the concerns that there may be discrimination experienced by Māori and some other cultural communities, the challenges of an ageing population, and inflexible work practices. The Public Service has a leadership role to meet and demonstrate employment standards, including a diverse and inclusive workforce. The Public Service must reflect the communities it serves and welcome diversity in an inclusive manner.


Individual New Zealanders must be able to have confidence in decisions made about them, and New Zealand as a community must have confidence about the decision-making process. Openness means information is available about what decisions are made, who is making them, and how people can participate.

The principle of openness has three elements to it.

  • It is about engaging citizens in the process of designing and delivering better outcomes and services and partnering with citizens and communities where appropriate.
  • It is about giving citizens and organisations the information, knowledge and ease of access to engage in the public processes of government and have their voice heard and valued should they choose to.
  • It is about empowering people to participate in decision-making and being receptive to that participation.

Openness does not preclude confidentiality. There is a balance to be struck, for instance, when Cabinet needs to work through to a decision or when it is a matter of protecting the information that government holds on individuals. In many areas, Parliament has legislated the need for confidentiality and public servants need to uphold these laws.


The Public Service must look ahead to the medium- and long-term to identify and meet future challenges, and to take future opportunities to strengthen New Zealand and the security and wellbeing of its people. The Public Service must be able to connect these long-term perspectives with the shorter-term imperatives of the Government of the day.

This requires a Public Service that values foresight and builds the experience and capability to think, plan and manage with the future interests of citizens at front and centre.  A New Zealand Public Service genuinely delivering on the stewardship principle will be in the strongest position to provide advice and support so that the Government can plan and manage for the medium-and long term good of the country.