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”