27 June 2013

Parliament completed the Second Reading debate on the State Sector and Public Finance Reform Bill on Tuesday.  The ritualistic joust took place between Government  and Opposition MPs although the vote replicated earlier divisions where Labour members have voted with the Government (together with ACT, Dunn and Horan,) and the Noes have comprised the Greens, Maori , NZ First and Mana.  The Second Reading passed with a 95 – 25 split.

The Bill amends the successor legislation to the Public Service Act 1912, all of which was in force a century ago -by 1 April 1913.  At that time the Post Office and Railways Department had already been set up as separate parts of the Administration.  The remaining agencies were constituted as the Public Service. That term reflected developments in both Canada and Australia. The colonial civil service, transplanted from Britain to the three Dominions gained a new character as the respective nations’ Public Service.   The British civil service which embodied the best traditions of the East India Company, continued as the model in Indian, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.  Most European countries used the term Civil Service.  Germany, Greece, France, Spain, Ireland etc. have a civil service as do Brazil and Japan. The United States kept the term civil service for its departments of state, while its public service is the collective for all public employment, and in particular elected officials.

But civil service has had no legal meaning in New Zealand (or Australia) for over 100 years. State Services seems to have meaning only in Tasmania and in New Zealand, flowing from its creation under the State Services Act 1962.

An  irony in the Second Reading debate on the State Sector and Public Finance Reform Bill is that while Parliament sought to prescribe functions and meaning to the Public Service and to the State Services, two MPs repeatedly referred to the civil service.  One spoke of a career as a public servant then strayed into using civil service parlance. The contributions of another long serving former Minister and prominent Member were peppered with references to the civil service.

The Select Committee was similarly inaccurate in its use of language when reporting on the Bill.  The Committee noted when explaining a new ability of chief executives to delegate roles and functions to non Public Servants, that “…We recommend amending this provision to require the delegate also to comply with the public servants’ code of conduct.”  The code of course was applied by the State Services Commissioner to agencies of the State Services – which include not only Public Service, Non Public Service  and Parliamentary departments, but Officers of Parliament, as well as most Crown Entities and their subsidiaries, and some other (5th Schedule”) agencies.