This issue of Public Sector begins our in-depth look at what you have told us it's like working in the public service. I highlight a couple of articles below.
I also provide some explainers about principles and values underpinning good government that have been in the media of late.
Kay Booth, Executive Director
Offensive to call those who strive to be politically neutral ‘bland’
Many will agree with IPANZ President Liz MacPherson who found it concerning to hear political neutrality associated with "blandness", "not having a personality" and lack of willingness to speak up. This represents a profound misunderstanding of the nature and importance of political neutrality to democracy. Read Liz’s thoughts here.
Themes emerging from our survey about working in the public service
A comprehensive summary of survey findings is now available on our website. The article provides insights for further discussion, rather than definitive conclusions. The overall conclusion? – we have a very sound public service, committed to its values. However, let’s talk about potential for improvement:
- A concern that the public service does not have a strong culture of merit-based appointments.
- A fear that transparency in the public service is compromised by a fear of political and career repercussions, along with media sensationalism.
- The perennial tension between short-term pressures and long-term imperatives.
Future issues of the Public Sector journal will explore survey findings in depth.
The importance of the Cabinet Manual has become crystal clear
Recently the rules governing Cabinet have become mainstream news – and that Minister Nash has fallen foul of them. These rules come from the Cabinet Manual – so what is it, what does it say, and why is it important?
This article is now out of date with respect to Minister Nash (who has since been sacked by the Prime Minister) but it well describes the Cabinet Manual. The authors say it is the primary source of information on New Zealand's constitutional arrangements from an Executive branch view and is binding on all government ministers. You may recall other times that the Cabinet Manual has led to political fall-out.
What about a balanced conversation about contractors in the public sector?
When “cost-of-contractors/consultants” is mentioned, the automatic reaction is shock and horror even when the context is never explained, the variety of work not described, the savings which can be generated by using contractors/consultants and the logic in using them, never explored. This piece from The Spinoff gives a practical picture of contract work.
This second article is a more strategic analysis of the role of consultants. It acknowledges that consultants fill the gaps of a pared back State. As the authors say, “any wholesale assault on them will have to be matched by a commitment to rebuilding capability in the public service”. Reinvestment in the long-term policy advisory capability in the State could reduce consultants’ influence. Can we have a less knee-jerk discussion about all this?
Giving Māori control over data
At a recent Australia and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG) conference, it was emphasised that indigenous people can and must be data designers, not just producers or consumers of data. Current measures emphasise Māori disadvantage, not their contribution, such as iwi as job creators. Unless Māori values shape the questions that are asked when data are collected, the bias in what is collected and reported will continue. This summary reports on the wisdom shared in this ANZSOG conference session.
Public servants at risk of ‘moral injury’
You may well have followed what is called the robodebt crisis in Australia. If you have not, this article in The Guardian will fill you in. An interesting question for public servants is – what is the impact upon public servants if ever they are put in the position of acting in ways that they genuinely believe to be neither appropriate, legal nor justified? We are very fortunate in New Zealand to have many mechanisms to prevent this happening to our senior public servants, and avenues to follow if they feel morally compromised. But we can never be too complacent. Read this article about the phenomenon called moral injury.
How much do we care about public service productivity?
At a time when there is enormous pressure on public services, but no great promise of more resources available, surely ensuring productivity is ever more important. Generating efficiency gains in the public sector can, therefore, have important implications for a country’s overall economic performance. As this article points out, it is very hard to measure but not impossible.
What is more interesting for New Zealand public servants is to read this summary from the Productivity Commission from a few years ago, but still relevant. It presents a challenging summary about lack of productivity and suggests a few ways forward such as setting productivity goals, building up measurement capability and better use of the budget to emphasise productivity. All of this relates to the Auditor-General’s focus on better evaluation and improving outcomes. It matters to our communities that we do this.
The debate about personal budgets for people with disabilities
In 2021 this e-update referenced a report about personal budgets for social services – that’s where the recipient holds the budget for their own social services. A recent article adds to this korero by emphasising the important role of the disability support workforce in the success of the disability system. The author says that the workforce has been overlooked in disability policy development and this should be rectified, while still ensuring those with disabilities who wish to have more autonomy in choosing their mix of support are provided with that right. With a new agency focused on our disabled community – Whaikaha I Ministry of Disabled People – it is important for public servants to think about these matters.
• IPANZ New Professionals: Meet the Chiefs Breakfast series - Join the IPANZ New Professionals Leadership Team for a light breakfast and the opportunity to meet with Chief Executives from the public sector.
- 19 April: Meet the Chiefs Breakfast with Laulu Mac Leauanae, Chief Executive – Ministry of Culture and Heritage Register here.
- 2 May: Meet the Chiefs Breakfast with Geraldine Clifford-Lidstone, Chief Executive – Ministry for Pacific Peoples Register here.
• 26 April: Ministers and Officials: Building the relationship with political nous - IPANZ and ANZSOG are partnering to explore issues at the political administrative interface. This event will delve into this vital topic with a panel well versed in the relationship between politicians and officials. Register here.
• Parliament in Practice - Designed for departmental and crown entity kaimahi (workers) who are new to the public sector. Join us for a unique opportunity to learn about the operations of Parliament, from those working within Parliament walls and tasked with supporting Parliament.
Strengthening Democracy through Open Government Panel Discussion
Victoria University of Wellington School of Government, NZ Council for Civil Liberties, Trust Democracy, Transparency International New Zealand, and the Open Government Partnership invites you to attend the upcoming Strengthening Democracy through Open Government Panel Discussion.
- Date and time: 5:00-7:30 pm, Thursday 13 April 2023
- Location: Lecture Theatre 1, VUW Law School (Behind Old Government Buildings, access from Stout Street)
- Register here
Aotearoa New Zealand is regarded by others as being one of the most transparent, least corrupt, and most democratic countries in the world. But perceptions of these issues amongst people living in Aotearoa New Zealand can diverge, and there is a risk that governments have been resting on their laurels. What does ‘open government’ mean? What does it mean in the context of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and tino rangatiratanga? What lessons can Aotearoa New Zealand learn from democratic backsliding in other countries? How can we make progress on public participation beyond voting in elections? And what new opportunities and challenges await us on the horizon? You are invited to join this panel of domestic and international leaders as they consider these issues, in light of Aotearoa New Zealand's recent fourth national action plan for open government.
- Sanjay Pradhan, Chief Executive Officer, Open Government Partnership, Washington D.C
- Rt Hon Helen Clark, Ambassador, Open Government Partnership
- Helmut Modlik, Chief Executive Officer, Te Rūnanga o Toa Rangatira
- Andrew Ecclestone, Deputy Chair, NZ Council for Civil Liberties
- Suzanne Snively, Member, NZ Open Government Partnership Expert Advisory Panel
Moderator: Dr Barbara Allen, Deputy Head, VUW School of Government
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