17 October 2012
The Institute of Public Administration (IPANZ) has been marking the enactment of the Public Service Act with a 100 Year Perspective – reviewing the formation and implementation of the legislation which established a unified, politically neutral, merit-based, “permanent” Public Service in New Zealand.
Yesterday, in the second presentation in the series, John Martin speaking about “The Old Public Service” explored how the Public Service responded to 75 years of economic events and the demands of the World Wars; of crises, pay freezes and sinking lids. He debunked the “gliding on” depiction of the administration created by the Public Service Act, acknowledged the management imperative set by Ministers, and gave recognition to the central role of the Public Service and its many competent leaders in the development of New Zealand’s infrastructure. He referred to measures that gave effect to the statutory objectives of efficiency and effectiveness that have always motivated its leadership.
He complimented “Lambton Quay warriors”, the core of long experienced, committed public servants who are expert in their legislation, have strong relationships within their sectors and a commanding contextual knowledge necessary for sound policy formation.
The well informed audience included Dr Robin Williams and Don Hunn, both having been responsible for leading the State Services Commission. Dr Williams mentioned how his wartime involvement together with six other New Zealand scientists in the Manhattan Project (a greater participation than Australia’s) reflected a strength of the Public Service and its capacity to coordinate resources. Mr Hunn confirmed that a very centralised management regime was perpetuated by the State Services Act 1962, illustrated by the Commission’s focus on disciplinary matters during his time as a Commissioner, but that the reforms of the 1980s were underway when he took over as the State Services Commissioner in 1989.
John Martin concluded an abbreviated delivery of his paper on what others have called the “nation building Public Service” with an observation about the absence of corruption during the 1912 -1988 period. With a caveat regarding the temptations created by import licensing and custom duty regimes, he confirmed that the reputation was well deserved – the Public Service was an ethical organisation, serving the public interest.
Next Tuesday Prof Jonathon Boston will speak on “The Eighties – a Retrospective View”
Great post – thank you
Thanks for your excellent commentary Beith. My Public Service career straddled the “old” and the “new”.
The “old” Public Service was certainly far more egalitarian than it is today, best exemplified by the annual publication of “The Stud Book”, that telephone-book sized listing of every Public Servant – their name, sex, department, location, job title (there were no “advisers” employed back then!), year of birth, date of appointment, and their salary grading. The Privacy Act was unheard of!
In that era transfers between departments was commonplace as a means of advancement and “The Stud Book” helped many considering applying for a transfer to get a feel for the new department – even whether a future manager had been squatting in the same job for decades, giving one little hope of getting their job anytime soon!
And then when a transfer out of your city occurred we all relied on the same SSC rule book for knowing exactly what transfer entitlements we were eligible for. It detailed everything, right down to how much fire wood in your old backyard the department would pay to be moved with your household effects to your new home, and even the provision of a new TV aerial if your existing aerial no longer worked in its new location.
Life seemed simpler, clearer, and fairer back then!
Thank you Craig
As a green Assistant Advisory Officer at SSC in 1972 I had a small part in developing some of the provisions and allowances in the Manual.
The “stud book” of course was a product of the classification process introduced as a pan Public Service resource with the 1912 Act. Both the Post Office and Railways had been classified in the 1890s.
In his presentation John Martin referred several times to occupational classification and the numerous occupational specialties that evolved – some very small, although the vast majority of public servants were in the clerical group.
The Civil List amounted to a stud book of sorts. It was published periodically from very early in the colony. A complete nominal roll of government employees was published as a Parliamentary report in 1870, listing names, appointments, salary, date of appointment and years of service. Interestingly, the first page includes the highest paid official – Chief Justice Arney on £1,700 – and the lowest paid, the Frankton Postmaster on a £5 salary after 3 years 8 months service.
Some departments had their own classifications. eg the Customs Department compilation of 1870 is at http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~ourstuff/CustomsDepartment.htm