IPANZ E-Update - 1 November 2023


We begin our e-update with comments from IPANZ President Liz MacPherson on preparing to serve a new government, followed by insights from Professor Jonathan Boston on the implications for the public sector of the incoming Government.

Other articles address the risk of not telling the ‘whole truth’, bias in evaluating our leaders, Koi Tū’s assessment of social cohesion in Aotearoa New Zealand, ways to address youth crime and much more.

Enjoy your reading.
Kay Booth, Executive Director - kay@ipanz.org.nz


With change comes opportunity – preparing to serve the government of the day

This post-election government formation period is not an easy time for public servants. The pre-election period has dwelt on criticism of the public service. This is not easy to hear, especially without the ability to respond. Then there are the threats of cuts to the state sector, particularly the lack of value put upon ‘back office’ jobs. And there are a plethora of new ideas and policies to be implemented which will require considerable work, potentially with diminishing resources.

When we take stock at this time, what is it that we know? Read more here.

What might the new government mean for public servants?

Professor Jonathan Boston was interviewed by John Campbell on Q+A. Although it is long (20 min), this interview is well worth watching. Professor Boston makes many interesting points including:

  • The significant pressure put on the public service by the many major reviews commissioned by the Labour government, with some agencies very slow in delivering.
  • The need for a more sophisticated understanding of the ‘front line’, especially given their ability to do their job depends on ‘back office’ support.
  • The likelihood of the introduction of public service targets and a strong focus on delivery.
  • The futility of focusing just upon numbers – of public servants or budgets – never forget the importance of a trusted public service and the capability of the public service to respond to crises: recently there have been 17 severe weather events requiring skilled and rapid public service response.

Partial truths and obfuscation never acceptable for public servants

The existence of the public service is predicated on the need to serve the public interest — the sole purpose for which public power and resources should ever be applied.

The Mandarin publishes a Tuesday “ethics club” article. A few weeks ago, they discussed the dangers of any pressure on a public servant to avoid telling the whole truth – use of terms like “not to my knowledge” or “I can’t recall”, for example.

The truth can of course reveal past error, poor judgement, complicity in wrongdoing. It can be embarrassing for oneself or others. It can test the bounds of personal loyalty. It can invite retribution from those who fear exposure.

This article argues that the legitimacy of a democratic state depends on the informed consent of the governed. And how can that consent ever be informed if it is based on partial truths or obfuscations? Speak up if you see our public service acting in this way.

Understand your bias in evaluating your leaders

This article in The Conversation challenges us to look at our biases that might lead us to rate our leaders positively or negatively. Given we have just gone through an election process to choose our political leaders, let’s reflect on what might have got them there.

The author suggests a few cautions, for example:

  • We may like them because they are “someone like us” – a shared identity. This does not mean they are a good leader.
  • We rate people who behave similarly to authority figures in our early life, whether they are good leaders or not.
  • 'Strong man' leadership is often intuitively liked, when in fact many of their characteristics make for poor leadership.

We are warned to understand our own biases and to try to look for qualities which are known to be positive – such as integrity, accountability, empathy and respect.

A concerted effort to build social cohesion is needed

Social cohesion is straining at the seams in New Zealand. It has been particularly evident during the election campaign. In this article, Koi Tū discusses some of the causes of decreasing cohesion, particularly the social and economic well-being of communities, and the external threats including climate change and the advance of technology. The increase in misinformation is both a cause and effect, all undermining trust in each other and in government.

But more important, Koi Tū has a comprehensive, if aspirational, set of ideas to build social cohesion – see page 13 of their full report. This includes seeking political accord on long term issues, strengthening compliance with the OIA, resolving the roles of central and local government, civics education and much more.

Punitive reactions to youth crime are not effective

This article by University of Canterbury academics is a plea to look at the evidence on youth crime. The threat of crime is always a subject ripe for vote-gathering during an election. We may find that a more punitive approach to youth offending will be taken by the new government. This is despite the fact that New Zealand’s rate of youth offending has been decreasing for some time.

There is evidence that restorative justice reduces reoffending. Family group conferences have been shown to reduce the “frequency and seriousness” of offending for 70% of participants, with Rangatahi Courts also helping to reduce offending and promote other positive outcomes.

An evidence-led approach to youth justice would involve Māori and have the goal of minimising the imprisonment of young people – there would be much greater investment in iwi partnerships to provide wrap-around community services that are whanau-focused and culturally appropriate.

Maybe once the new government is in power, evidence of what works will come to the fore.

A lost chance to discuss the wellbeing of Aotearoa with New Zealanders

Te Tai Waiora: Wellbeing in Aotearoa New Zealand 2022 is a well-considered account from The Treasury. The high-level results may not be surprising: there is an improvement in wellbeing over the last 20 years on most measures. Young people, however, fare much less well than older people, with literacy, numeracy and mental health being foremost problems. Māori have had an especially rapid increase in rates of psychological distress, experience high levels of discrimination, and hold low trust in government institutions. The report notes the critical importance of raising productivity. For a quick read, the Secretary’s foreword gives you the overall picture.

The Auditor-General comments on its extensive research and analysis. But he finds the language not conducive to public engagement, a crucial weakness – “reports such as these will only reach their full potential if they are able to be widely understood, discussed, and used”. There were few signs of the report starting wider discussions or debates about New Zealand’s wellbeing. To avoid the criticism sometimes levelled at our public service that it is too internally focused, encouragement of widespread discussion of the ideas in documents such as this, is exactly what is needed.

Can managers be too nice?

This brief article asks the question whether you can be too nice at work? Being nice, in the sense of being empathetic, generous, caring, forgiving and supportive of others is a vital contribution to good culture and teamwork.

However, we need to strike a careful balance between being nice and staying true to our responsibilities. Managers need to draw a distinction between task conflict and personal conflict. Task conflict is about managing performance. A talent of good managers is being able to engage in task conflict — holding people to account — without crossing into personal conflict.

So it is worthwhile considering – do your managers create a climate where personal criticism and conflict is minimised and diversity is valued, but where any failure to perform required tasks is rigorously challenged?


  • Thursday 9 November, Auckland, 5.30 - 7.00pm: New Professionals: Creating a resilient Tāmaki Makaurau - Join the IPANZ New Professionals for a dynamic panel discussion focused on innovative solutions to address the water-related impacts of climate change in Tāmaki Makaurau. For more information or to register for this event visit our website.
  • Tuesday 14 and Wednesday 15 November, Wellington, 9.30am - 4.30pm: Effective Engagement with Māori - There are still a few places left in this workshop, register now to secure your spot! Designed to help public service kaimahi, workers, gain a greater understanding of Te Ao Māori (Māori world view), Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and provide practical tools and techniques for effectively engaging with Māori. For more information visit our website.
  • Thursday 16 November, Online, 12.00 - 1.00pm: Skills Consulting Group Webinar on Agile Working: What is it and how can it help me? Tune in as IPANZ Executive Director Kay Booth is joined by Shane Hastie, SoftEd Global Delivery Lead, where he will offer an introductory understanding of agile working and explore its practical applications in the public sector setting. For more information or to register for this event visit our website.
  • Friday 17 November, Auckland, 7.15 - 8.30am: Meet the Chiefs Breakfast with Carolyn Tremain, Chief Executive of MBIE - Join IPANZ New Professionals for their last Meet the Chiefs event of the year. Carolyn Tremain, Chief Executive of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment will join attendees for breakfast and a wide-ranging conversation about her priorities for the Ministry, her journey to date and what has driven her over her long and esteemed career in the public service and beyond. For more information or to register for this event visit our website.


Women in Public Service Summit 2023 - Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland

Registrations are now open for the next summit in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland. Register via the summit website and keep up to date with programme developments and speaker information. The day will include keynote speakers, panel sessions and informative workshops kanohi ki te kanohi at this in-person event. Don't miss this networking and development opportunity!

  • Date: Thursday 16 November
  • Venue: Aotea Centre, Auckland

Westpac Financial Wellbeing Series

Westpac invites you to join their Managing Your Money team for their November series, with topics themed around housing where they will finish the series off with a special topic – The Housing Market Update having Nick Goodall (Head of Research) from CoreLogic New Zealand share his insights and views on the housing market.

  • Session One: Understanding debt, Tuesday, 7 November, 11am-12pm. Register here.
  • Session Two: Buying your first home, Thursday, 9 November, 11am-12pm. Register here.
  • Session Three: Managing your mortgage, Tuesday, 21 November, 11am-12pm. Register here.
  • Session Four: The housing market update, Thursday, 23 November. 1-2pm. Register here.


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