New Zealand's Public Service Sector: Really That Public? - TOP

It is becoming increasingly clear that our public sector is shackled to their Ministerial masters. The Opportunities Party had our own, very innocent, taste of this last week. 

The Minister of Conservation announced the result of the latest research into 1080 drops, and this was good news for the kaka populations in Westland. The Opportunities Party is very supportive of the work of the Department of Conservation, so we were keen to share the good news!

Our commitment is to evidence-based policy and to saving our native species in the most cost effective way possible. 1080 isn’t perfect, but at the moment it seems to be an important part of the toolbox in certain circumstances.

In the interests of informed public discussion, we asked DOC to provide the research that was behind the Minister’s announcement. It is worth pointing out that DOC and us go way back. Through the Morgan Foundation we have undertaken many projects with them. For many years we have worked to inform the public about the evidence behind DOC’s position on many issues and generally, they have been grateful for that. Not any more it appears, because this time we got this response:

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Turning this into an Official Information Act request means that it will be delayed for a month at least, and judging by the Government’s record, much longer. This response is a small isolated example, but it raises a whole lot of questions about the state of our democracy. 

Firstly, what is the Minister doing making announcements about research when the research isn’t open for public scrutiny?

Secondly, do Ministers now control all public interactions with Departments? We can understand that there might be some reticence when involving another political party, but even when that political party is trying to help? Is the primary role of Departments and Ministries to cover the arses of their politician masters?

Finally and most importantly, when did transparency become an optional extra that you have to request? Are we supposed to believe everything that comes out of a Minister’s mouth?

We really feel for the scientists and policy advisers working in the public service. Most of them want their work to inform the public so that our democracy can function as it is supposed to. Instead their good work gets put through the Ministerial spin machine by hordes of PR merchants and comes out unrecognisable. The resulting vacuum of information leaves room for conspiracy theorists to thrive and push their agenda – we see no better example on this than 1080.

Increasingly, it appears that Departments and Ministries are nothing more than corporate offices for their politician masters. This is clearly an issue with the current Government, but let’s not forget that these sorts of practices began under the last Labour Government. Once again the Establishment Parties are just as bad as each other. 

Ultimately this will feeds public distrust in our institutions (who by and large are trying to do a good job) and so undermine our democracy.

The public service should serve the public first, Ministers second. That is all there is to it, really. This is what we propose with our Democracy Reset policy. You can check it out here.