7 November 2018

The Public Service Act passed on 7 November 1912 established the New Zealand Public Service. The Public Service comprises Government Departments listed in Sch 1 to the State Sector Act, which distinguishes them from the agencies which evolved from the Railways Department and the Post and Telegraph Department.

The anniversary of the enactment is to be commemorated each year with a Public Service Day. The occasion will be marked with presentations of The New Zealand Public Service Medal.  A Royal Warrant of July 2018, authorises “our Minister of State Services” to confer the medal for meritorious service by employees in the New Zealand Public Service (the power may be delegated to the State Service Commissioner.)

That wording is interesting.  It cannot be intended that the medal is awarded to Public Service chief executives. Those office holders are not employees. Similarly it cannot be intended to encompass employees in the wider State Services – covering inter alia, Parliamentary Departments, Non Public Services Departments, Reserve Bank, Tertiary Education Institutions, Crown Entities (including DHBs) and their subsidiaries and State-Owned Enterprises, although the predecessor agencies of many were part of the Public Service recognised by the 1912 Act.

The Public Service Act saw the end of the Civil Service which had supported  representative government from the meeting of the first New Zealand Parliament in 1854 (and which took over Colonial Office appointees who had been serving the Governor since separation from the New South Wales administration in 1841.)

This metamorphosis from Civil Service to Public Service which took effect from 1 April 1913 means that although New Zealand has one of the world’s oldest continuous Parliaments, the Public Service is less long standing.  (Canada established its Public Service in 1867, and Australia the year after New Zealand in 1913).

Canada has a Public Service Week ( set up by a two section Act ) and an Exemplary Service Medal created in 2004. Australia has a Public Service Medal but no commemorative Public Service Day.

The State Services Commissioner conferred six medals (two being posthumous) at a weekend event.

Interestingly both Dominica and Tonga also had an inaugural Public Service Day during 2018.  Both marked the day in June coinciding with the United Nations Public Services Day.