Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Leaving the bunker

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  • Danyl Mclauchlan,

    at the end of the day there are a lot more civil servants in Wellington now than 10 years ago and that worries a lot of people.

    My concern is that even to a leftie like me a lot of these new civil servant jobs sound pretty damn superfluous. (Maybe its the circles I move in but most of them seem to be in comms.) And I've had more than a couple of conversations with friends who've just moved into (astonishingly well paid) government jobs, told me what they were doing (keeping the vacancies content on the ministries web site up to date, writing a diversity policy for their new department) and when I ask them if its a part time job or a temporary contract - which jobs like that MUST be, right? - my friend looks offended and tells me that they have a permanent full time position.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 901 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Hosking,

    No, but does it make for efficient government if senior management is ideologically opposed to the policy direction that has been decided upon by the elected government.

    There is a thing called professionalism, you know. And quite a lot of senior public servants have it in spades, even if some might cringe at the ideological direction of whoever is in power.

    There have been cases of senior public servants with their own agendas which they run regardless of who is in power. Some are later lauded - by some - as heroes (William Sutch, Beeby; Rod Deane, Kara Puketapu, Graham Scott).

    But they're rarities, and most can adapt to whoever is in power.

    One other point: whenever a party has been out of power for a while they start to view the public service as having gone over to the governing party. Labour felt that way in 1999: as well as Rankin they specifically named some senior civil servants as being ideologically unacceptable.


    [Question: how is that more OK than just being more generally critical of 'bureaucrats'?]

    Some of those named were gotten rid of- Rankin and Doone. Others - Paul Carpinter, Mark Prebble and Howard Fancy - weren't, and in fact came to be highly trusted by ministers.

    Again, its about professionalism.

    A final - practical - point. We just don't have enough talented people to have an ideological cleanout of the public sector every time the government changes.

    South Roseneath • Since Nov 2006 • 802 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Hosking,

    No, but does it make for efficient government if senior management is ideologically opposed to the policy direction that has been decided upon by the elected government.

    There is a thing called professionalism, you know. And quite a lot of senior public servants have it in spades, even if some might cringe at the ideological direction of whoever is in power.

    There have been cases of senior public servants with their own agendas which they run regardless of who is in power. Some are later lauded - by some - as heroes (William Sutch, Beeby; Rod Deane, Kara Puketapu, Graham Scott).

    But they're rarities, and most can adapt to whoever is in power.

    One other point: whenever a party has been out of power for a while they start to view the public service as having gone over to the governing party. Labour felt that way in 1999: as well as Rankin they specifically named some senior civil servants as being ideologically unacceptable.


    [Question: how is that more OK than just being more generally critical of 'bureaucrats'?]

    Some of those named were gotten rid of- Rankin and Doone. Others - Paul Carpinter, Mark Prebble and Howard Fancy - weren't, and in fact came to be highly trusted by ministers.

    Again, its about professionalism.

    A final - practical - point. We just don't have enough talented people to have an ideological cleanout of the public sector every time the government changes.

    South Roseneath • Since Nov 2006 • 802 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Hosking,

    Sorry about the dual post.

    Too much coffee this morning produced finger twitch.

    South Roseneath • Since Nov 2006 • 802 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Williams,

    Compared with the the Australian public sector, NZ's is very efficient. I'm astounded at the size of some state's public service, NSW being particularly large. And, to echo Rob's post above, the professionalism in the NZ public sector is also comparatively high. Perhaps I'll leave it at that however.

    Sydney • Since Nov 2006 • 2209 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    Compared with the the Australian public sector, NZ's is very efficient.

    LOL, yeah, I got a mate who got a job recently working as a lawyer for the Govt over in Sydney. He said after 3 months he hadn't actually been asked to do any work whatsoever. When it came time for his review, his boss said she was really, really pleased with his work. And he's getting paid damn good money too.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8316 posts Report Reply

  • Shep Cheyenne,

    NZ has a f*&ked up work ethic with the excesses of the 80s cut backs and the 90s screw downs Kiwis just work too hard.

    Telecom & a few other companies got screwed in court for draining every drop of blood out of their employees and then firing them.

    The phrase work life balance seems to be a euphemisim for drop-out or burn-out in some work places I've been in.

    1991 I had to work a 1/2hr more a day for no more pay & then I got a hrly rate pay cut. This has not caught up & that industry is even more causual (which has its advantages sure) with reduced benefits, conditions & pay.

    Headline yesterday of a 30% drop in house prices needed for the average family to buy misses the point entirely.

    We need a 30% pay rise across NZ & a bit of restraint at the top end. Senior Management shud be paid no more than 3 times the average employees wage would be a good philosophy to start with. Raising the average wage rather than dropping the CEOs to achieve this.

    Since Oct 2007 • 927 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell,

    Hoho, those aussies!
    My wife had a job in the Australian civil service in the 80's, in the Ministry of Defence, addressing mail-outs to defence contractors.
    She soon realised she was writing the same addresses out over and over again. She got someone to type up multiple sticky labels for all the main contractors, and could do her day's work in about half an hour, most days. The addresses were more legible and generally less error-prone, too.
    No-one noticed.
    After three months she was so bored, she quit, and her supervisor realised she wouldn't have to be replaced. He was apparently quite miffed- possibly because he'd lose status for having one less lackey.

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 1468 posts Report Reply

  • Caleb D'Anvers,

    A close relative of mine was high-up in the State Services Commission during the '90s. Her politics were Thatcherite -- I remember there being lots of ACT Party literature around her house -- but by the end of the decade she had become thoroughly disillusioned and was reading John Ralston Saul.

    As she saw it, the SSC's role had become purely destructive. Its sole purpose seemed to be administering an endless series of reviews and cutbacks for Government entities. It was a kind of vindictive game -- seeing how many staff you could get rid of and how much budget you could cut while the body remained alive. Outside the SSC and Treasury, the public sector was essentially on life-support by '99, and no wonder.

    Anyone who wonders why there's been an increase in state-sector staffing under Labour has presumably forgotten those years. There were as few public servants in 1999 as there had been at any time since the end of the Second World War. Far too few, in fact, to do the work they were charged with.

    The idea that people are actually prepared to go back there just makes me sick. It's fuelled, as far as I can see, largely by anti-intellectual resentment. And, if it's carried through, it will kill Wellington as decent place to live. A lot of my friends -- hardworking, highly educated, extremely smart -- work in the State sector. They're the kind of people that, in the '90s, would have been forced into the more-or-less permanent exile of London or Edinburgh or Melbourne. (And perhaps will be again, come 2009 ...) These are the people who go to gigs and plays and support the galleries. Drive them out of central Wellington, and you'd be left with a very different -- and much less interesting -- place.

    East Greenwich • Since Mar 2008 • 421 posts Report Reply

  • andrew llewellyn,

    the professionalism in the NZ public sector is also comparatively high. Perhaps I'll leave it at that however.

    yeah, you better had. Before you start encouraging the wingnuts to come back.

    Since Nov 2006 • 2073 posts Report Reply

  • DeepRed,

    Paul Williams: Compared with the the Australian public sector, NZ's is very efficient. I'm astounded at the size of some state's public service, NSW being particularly large. And, to echo Rob's post above, the professionalism in the NZ public sector is also comparatively high. Perhaps I'll leave it at that however.

    Mind you, Oz does have an 3rd layer of Govt (State, in addition to Federal and Local) compared with NZ's 2-layer system.

    For all his bluster about 'bureaucrats', I doubt that Key would be prepared to risk a 1951 with the PSA. Rodney and Roger might, though.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 4158 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    I doubt that Key would be prepared to risk a 1951 with the PSA.

    Not much of a risk, one would think Deep Red.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 11867 posts Report Reply

  • Deborah,

    These are the people who go to gigs and plays and support the galleries. Drive them out of central Wellington, and you'd be left with a very different -- and much less interesting -- place.

    Yes, but that doesn't mean that the size of the public service shouldn't be reviewed.

    I think there are plenty of other good reasons to more-or-less support most of the current core public service structure, but this isn't one of them. It's just a side effect.

    Manawatu City • Since Nov 2006 • 1303 posts Report Reply

  • Shep Cheyenne,

    "Yes, but that doesn't mean that the size of the public service shouldn't be reviewed."

    Deb - here you've focused on size but not function and so sets up an agenda to reduce it the size of govt.

    Since Oct 2007 • 927 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Judd,

    These are the people who go to gigs and plays and support the galleries. Drive them out of central Wellington, and you'd be left with a very different -- and much less interesting -- place.

    That is a concern, but honestly, if that's the only reason, then the "intellectual resentment" is totally justified.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2936 posts Report Reply

  • Che Tibby,

    These are the people who go to gigs and plays and support the galleries. Drive them out of central Wellington, and you'd be left with a very different -- and much less interesting -- place.

    it does make us sound like we're overpaid party-goers. :)

    that said though, the life is wellington is probably more the product of a high density of youngish people living and working in the same space. you'd get the same effect in any city with reasonable density.

    and density is probably why auckland lacks it! (not that i'm wanting to restart that old argument).

    but on topic! does anyone know what nzl's proportion of public servants to working age population is? i'm not sure that it's out of line with other oecd countries.

    the back of an envelope • Since Nov 2006 • 2024 posts Report Reply

  • Che Tibby,

    OK, so i've done some back-of-envelope-type-figures (hopefully someone has some accurate information). mostly because i'm intensely curious.

    this pdf from the OECD has some interesting figures on numbers of public sector employees. p.52 has a graph.

    in this case "public sector" employees seems to include *anyone* employed by government. in new zealand, according to the SSC, we had 324,086 public sector types in june 2007.

    but, we only had 42,000 in the "core" public service (meaning all the ministries and departments). i.e. 'bureaucrats' and not "front-line" workers.

    according to Dept of Stats in the december quarter there were 2,173,000 employed.

    my shonky math and lightning fast research gives us about 15% of the workforce in the "public sector", meaning teachers, nurses, firemen etc. that number appears about average for the oecd

    but only 2% of the workforce are "bureaucrats". that's less than the unemployment rate.

    <disclaimer> keith ng could do a better job with these stats!</disclaimer>

    the back of an envelope • Since Nov 2006 • 2024 posts Report Reply

  • steven crawford,

    These are the people who go to gigs and plays and support the galleries. Drive them out of central Wellington, and you'd be left with a very different -- and much less interesting -- place.

    Hay wait a minuet, but what about the musicians, actors and artists. Doesn't driving them out of central wellington matter? It's expensive to live in central wellington. The bureaucrats don't actually make a habit of actually paying artists.

    And it totally sucks! (from my perspective)

    Exhibition Charges

    The exhibition charge is $300 for a three to four week show, depending on use of the gallery space.

    It is however an interesting concept, Supporting the arts by, I duno, weary trendy looking garb and drinking the free wine that the artist paid for.

    Since Nov 2006 • 2589 posts Report Reply

  • steven crawford,

    OK, I was a bit over reactive, Some parts of the bureaucracy that manege public art spaces, don't actually support the artist's adequately, at there peril! Maybe that the real reason for the hiking up of the spray painting in public, punishment's.

    Since Nov 2006 • 2589 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    <disclaimer> keith ng could do a better job with these stats!</disclaimer>

    He did (no offence) but someone's not doing their job in putting Fact Check up on the Herald website. Keith should ask the HoS if he can just post the column a couple of days later.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18709 posts Report Reply

  • Shep Cheyenne,

    While you're crunching stats and Roger Douglas is coming back into politics (Weekend at Bernies anyone?)

    He had the 5Million Pop for NZ campaign a decade back.

    Does anyone know the tipping point when our population can support itself rather than being totally reliant on exports as we are?

    Since Oct 2007 • 927 posts Report Reply

  • Che Tibby,

    @rb. heh. i just enjoyed the exercise.

    the back of an envelope • Since Nov 2006 • 2024 posts Report Reply

  • steven crawford,

    @rb. heh. i just enjoyed the exercise.

    Criky, You do get going early, Che. Is this a standard practice?

    Since Nov 2006 • 2589 posts Report Reply

  • Che Tibby,

    absolutely. bed after 10, out before 7. i can sleep when i'm old! it's also why i read right past something rb said...

    rb, are you suggesting that the herald is not running a column of keith's that might shed light on one of key's statements?

    that's a little far-fetched isn't it?

    the back of an envelope • Since Nov 2006 • 2024 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    These are the people who go to gigs and plays and support the galleries. Drive them out of central Wellington, and you'd be left with a very different -- and much less interesting -- place.

    Um, the fan-fucking-tastic Auckland Theatre Company's production of The Crucible I raved about last year seemed to be an artistic and commercial success (and the large cast made it a marginal proposition) despite the dearth of civil servants in Dorkland. And without wanting to buy into some drumb Wellywood/Dorkland pissing match, the ATC's season in looking a damn sight more interesting than Circa's.

    Jus' saying folks...

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 11867 posts Report Reply

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