De-Listing Powers Opposed
Environment and Conservation Organisations of NZ Inc
Executive Powers to De-list Government Departments Dangerous & Need Wide Public Discussion:
State Sector Amendment Bill De-Listing Powers Opposed
Parliament should not allow governments to abolish government departments without Parliamentary scrutiny, says the Environment and Conservation Organisations of NZ, ECO, because it could lead to conflicting functions within agencies, de- stabilise the public service and lead to damaging power plays between departments. ECO presented its submissions on the State Sector Amendment Bill today and called for much wider publicity and public debate on the changes proposed to how departments are removed from the Public Service.
“Now, if the government wants to de-list a department or ministry from the Public Service (by removing them from the first Schedule of the State Services Act), they have to go through Parliament. The State Sector Amendment Bill, would allow far- reaching changes by letting governments simply do this by Order in Council, with no Parliamentary oversight. This is a major change and we oppose it”, said Cath Wallace for ECO to the Government Administration Select Committee.
She warned “the proposed powers would allow governments to rearrange and restructure or abolish elements of the public service at will without public debate: yet which functions belong in which departments is often hugely important.” Wallace is an academic specialist in public policy
“In the environmental field we found out in the late 1970s and early1980s the hard way why departments should exist by statute and have to have statutory de-listing. When the Commission for the Environment only existed by Cabinet Minute, on occasions when it said boo to the bulldozer or chainsaw departments, the Ministry of Works and Development and the NZ Forest Service, it was threatened that it would be abolished if it objected to the environmental damage they caused. This was when Ken Piddington was Secretary for the Environment.
There are also important issues of which departmental functions should not be put together because of conflicts of interest. The NZ Forest Service was supposed to look after native forest parks, but they felled forests and burnt native forests with petroleum jelly to plant pines. The chainsaw brigade dominated. The Ministry of Works and Development had major conflicts too: they were engineers, bulldozers and dam-builders and these activities made it unsuitable for the other function of Water and Soil protection and administering the Town and Country Planning Act.
“Any new government could decide in any field of government to make unsuitable combinations like those and this Bill would stop Parliament and the public having a say. This section of the Bill should be dumped, even though it undoubtedly makes for administrative ease for the government of the day.
“f it is not dumped, then at the least it should be held back for serious consideration and thought and not rushed through with the other aspects of the Bill on Social Policy and state sector redundancy changes. There were only two weeks for submissions. The hearings are taking place the same week submissions closed. Parliament and the public needs time to think through the issues
“The few people who know the Bill was introduced seem to think is just about technical redundancy in the Public Sector and the creation of the Social Policy Ministry. The State Services Commission and some in the government seem to think that the change proposed is simply an insiginificant technical matter. It is actually highly significant in that it will undermine good government, lead to worse power plays between departments, destabilise the Public sector and undermine certainty for public sector employees.
“The Bill would effectively permit restructuring at will: this will destabilise the Public Service and cause on-going anxiety to public servants. We understand there may sometimes be a case for change, but this should not be a matter of Executive whim, Wallace says.