State services: what’s  behind the “upheaval”?

State  Services  Commissioner  Peter Hughes, announcing five top appointments in the state sector,  said he  decided to deal with the vacancies as a package to remove uncertainty and maintain momentum in key roles and portfolios.

The Dominion-Post headlined the news as“Upheaval for public service”.  Richard Harman  in  Politik, labeling it  as the   most comprehensive  reshuffle of  top public service  management  “ever”, argued the govt is saying the move reflects its desire that a more unified old-style public service be further developed.  David Farrar, in Kiwiblog, noting the  appointments  were  made by transfer,  thought this is the first time this power has been used.

“It is very good to see these decisions made before most of the roles fall vacant. This means no need for an Acting CE, and gives good continuity and direction”.

Equal Employment Opportunities  Commisioner  Dr  Jackie  Blue has  a  different  take  on it.  She  blasted the process  as  unfair to  top  women in  the  public service,  and contended  the  vacant    positions  should have been contestable.     

Hughes’  moves  are:

  • At the end of Helene Quilter’s term as Secretary of Defence at the Ministry of Defence, which has been extended through to 30 June 2019, she will be succeeded by Andrew Bridgman, currently Secretary for Justice. He has been appointed Secretary of Defence in the Ministry of Defence for five years from 1 July 2019.
  • Andrew Kibblewhite, who is CEO, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, has been appointed Secretary for Justice for five years from 1 February 2019.
  • Brook Barrington, currently Secretary of Foreign Affairs and Trade, has been appointed Chief Executive, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, for five years from 1 February 2019.
  • On the retirement of Martyn Dunne, the current Director-General for Primary Industries in the Ministry for Primary Industries, Ray Smith, currently Chief Executive, Department of Corrections, has been appointed Director-General for Primary Industries for five years from 1 November 2018.
  • Following the decision of current Secretary for Internal Affairs, Colin MacDonald to step down and pursue new opportunities, Paul James, currently CEO at the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, has been appointed Secretary for Internal Affairs for five years from 1 October 2018.

As one of the truly outstanding leaders within the state bureaucracy serving successive govts, Peter Hughes may have delivered his masterstroke in this  reshuffle.

Yet some may wonder if  this is all as straightforward as  it looks. The coffee shops along The Terrace and Lambton Quay have been  humming  with  speculation.

Shane  Jones’  displeasure  with  some bureaucrats  and  Phil Twyford’s  scorn for the  “kids of  Treasury”, (a comment  which sent a  twinkle  across the face of  Treasury boss Gabriel Mahklouf)  underpinned  the belief  of those  thinking there is  more than meets the eye   in  such an “upheaval”.

The broader issue  traces  back to  the  huge range of  inquiries, reviews, independent  panels and  working groups  set  up by the current coalition  govt  to probe  matters  and  seek  answers,  where  in  normal  circumstances   ministers  would  be  asking, and relying, on their ministries to provide the appropriate advice.

The   long  and proud tradition  within the  NZ  public  service   has been  to deliver advice  of the  highest  quality  without  fear  or  favour.

That  tradition  would be  eroded  if   ministers are   not happy  with the advice they are  getting,  or  exhibit the tendency  to accept only advice they want to hear.

You can   expect the  next series  of   public  sector   appointments – particularly  for   MFAT  and  Corrections  –  to be  even more   closely  scrutinised .






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