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The Public Sector and New Govts: No New Thing Under The Sun

The Public Sector and New Governments: No New Thing Under The Sun

Trans Tasman's Political Pulse - October 31, 2017

INSIGHTS ABOUT THE NEWS - The Ministry for Primary Industries is being split into three parts covering forestry, fisheries and agriculture. Labour MP Stuart Nash is the new Minister of Fisheries, NZ First MP Shane Jones is the Minister of Forestry and Labour's Damien O'Connor has taken the Agriculture portfolio.

As reported in Trans Tasman's sister publication The Main Report Farming Alert, the previous Govt brought the three sectors together in a super-Ministry, but critics say forestry, in particular, lost momentum in this set-up. The administration of fisheries by MPI was also targeted by Greenpeace, which contended MPI had become a vassal of the big fishing companies.

Splitting up the Ministry for Primary Industries is just one area of the state sector in for a shake-up under the new Govt, but it is one which most reflects the latest change in fashion for public service structure.

Over the decades, Govts of all stripes have sought to make their stamp on the state service by changing their structure. NZ has had periods of super departments, the policy/funder/provider splits, the rise of niche Ministries and the creation of Super-Ministries.

All have their pluses and minuses. Smaller boutique Ministries are meant to be leaner and more focused, while proponents of the Super-Ministries cite the removal of silo thinking and economies of scale.

The new Govt, as is its right, has decided the areas of forestry, fisheries and agriculture each need their own focus. It is nothing new for the veteran officials who have had very little rest from restructuring over the last few decades.

The downside of this is those being restructured end up spending time focused on whether they will have a job and then what it might be, rather than doing their job.

For now, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment is safe from change, but it too might be chopped up. Once upon a time it was the Commerce Ministry, which ended up with all the bits of Govt that didn’t fit anywhere else. Then Jim Anderton dreamed of a Super-Ministry to rival Treasury and the Ministry of Economic Development was formed.

Along came Steven Joyce and he built on Anderton’s dream by creating the super-super MBIE, taking most of those involved by complete surprise such was the stealth of the move. It would not be surprising if it too was carved up again in the latest change of policy fashion.

National had also been pushing for “clusters” of departments working together with some shared budgets focused on specific targets. Whether this will survive the change in Govt is another question up in the air.

The agreements between Labour and NZ First and Labour and the Greens are very broad and light in detail, but they do give an indication of what is ahead in the coming months and years for the state sector:
o A return of the old Forest Service to take a more active role in planting.

o Govt procurement rules will be reformed to give “NZ companies greater access.” There is also agreement to “re-examine the Defence procurement programme within the context of the 2016 Defence Capability Plan budget.”

o The Govt’s banking looks set for a shake-up with an agreement to “investigate growing KiwiBank’s capital base and capabilities so that it is positioned to become the Govt’s Banker when that contract is next renewed.”

o The Govt’s vehicle fleet, where practicable, to become emissions-free by 2025/26.

o The elimination of the gender pay gap within the core public sector and work to ensure the wider public sector and private sector is on a similar pathway.

o The Ministry of Social Development will also come under scrutiny with agreement to “overhaul the welfare system.”

o There is also agreement to “strengthen NZ’s democracy by increasing public participation, openness, and transparency around official information.”

o The Mental Health Commission will be re-established.

Trans Tasman’s sister publication, The Main Report Farming Alert, is a weekly source providing you with in-depth news, analysis and opinion on NZ’s agriculture sectors.

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