14 August 2016

Last week the Minister of State Services published findings of the latest six monthly headcount in the core government administration. This shows the extent to which agencies (somewhat broader than “core public service” as described by the Minister)  have complied with the cap on staffing numbers imposed in 2008 by the newly elected  Key Administration. Then with notable exceptions including much of the Ministry of Social Development (including CYF) and Department of Corrections, employee numbers were capped in Public Service departments (the 35 departments then listed in Sch1 to the State Sector Act) and five Crown Entities (Housing NZ Corporation, Accident Compensation Corporation,  NZ Qualifications Authority, NZ Trade and Enterprise, NZ Transport Agency and the Tertiary Education Commission).

There were 38,849 relevant employees in December 2008 when the cap was imposed.  The latest headcount is 35,917 being a 190 full-time equivalent reduction since December 2015. (In December 2015  a substantially greater reduction – to 35,335 – was projected.) There are approximately 10,000 employees in MSD and Corrections who are not subject to the cap.

An interesting coincidence is that today is the 177th anniversary of what can be considered as the appointment of New Zealand’s first public servant. That is the date of the Instructions which Lord Normanby, the Secretary for State for War and the Colonies,  gave to Captain Hobson on his appointment as Consul in New Zealand in 1839.  Hobson’s mission was to establish a “settled form of civil government” in New Zealand which reflected the expectations prescribed by the Secretary of State. (James Busby who was the British Resident in the Bay of Islands from 1833 – 1840 was commissioned by the Governor of New South Wales.)

Lord Normanby  referred to exercising “mildness, justice, and perfect sincerity…”  and that ….”dealings …  must be conducted on …principles of sincerity, justice, and good faith…”  “The acquisition of land by the Crown … must be confined to such districts as the Natives can alienate without distress or serious inconvenience to themselves.”

Although New Zealand was to be a dependency to the Government of New South Wales Lord Normanby indicated that “… I trust that the time is not distant when it may be proper to establish in New Zealand itself a local legislative authority.”  But Hobson was to be the only Colonial Office appointee in the first instance. Subordinate officers with pay “…fixed with the most anxious regard to frugality in the expenditure of the public resources” were to  be selected from the colonists either of New South Wales or New Zealand, “…but upon the full and distinct understanding that their tenure of office, and even the existence of the offices which they are to hold, must be provisional, and dependent upon the future pleasure of the Crown.”

Permanent appointments were made in May 1841 by Lord Russell who had taken over as Secretary of State.  His appointments included William Martin as Chief Justice, William Swainson as Attorney-General and George Oathwaite as Registrar of the Supreme Court.  They replaced Hobson’s appointees although Willoughby Shortland (a former naval officer like Hobson) who accompanied Hobson from England was also appointed by Lord Russell as Colonial Secretary. He acted as Governor after Hobson’s death but was sacked as Colonial Secretary soon after Governor Fitzroy arrived.  Fitzroy replaced Shortland with Andrew Sinclair – a retired naval surgeon who accompanied Fitzroy to New Zealand.

Sinclair did not show particular ability as Colonial Secretary, but he acquired a reputation for being “honest, upright, scrupulous, and laborious”. He is recognised for setting up the nucleus of an efficient Civil Service, with men like G. S. Cooper and William Gisborne in key positions. He later drowned crossing the Rangitata River.

Swainson was praised by Lord Stanley and James Stephen at the Colonial Office for the clarity and intelligibility of his legislation and the completely new basis for the legal system in New Zealand. He opposed  responsible government recognising that it placed Maori at the mercy of a land-hungry European minority.  Seen consequently as a precise, careful but self-conceited lawyer he was described as a cultured English gentleman.  He was the first Speaker of the Legislative Council. He died in 1884 at Judges Bay in the house he brought from England.