Being a public servant at the highest level takes incredible fortitude. Only a few stand out.
Gabriel Makhlouf leaves shortly as the Treasury Secretary.
He has led the formation of a framework that has restructured how the government spends public money from the ground up.
It is likely that this restructuring of advice and measurement about budget prioritisation will withstand any future change to a National-dominated government, since they were working on it under Minister of Finance and Prime Minister Bill English.
We have waited for decades for Treasury to be ruled not by ideology but by facts that drive policy outcomes.
This new framework makes it a more subtle and secure framework than the last time any central government tried a broad policy framework across all budget bids – the Growth and Innovation Framework in the early part of the Helen Clark government. That ambitious bid to stabilise policy extremes from the 1990s and to harness business effort for policy aims did not have a lasting impact in Wellington.
The new framework is likely to be more successful and enduring. Treasury’s Living Standards Framework aims to capture a comprehensive, balanced range of wellbeing outcomes indicators. It is not prescriptive about whether or how governments should intervene to promote wellbeing. It helps support advice about prioritisation.
The openness of the methodology makes it incredibly plain just what weighting the government is looking for, and provides the spreadsheets for government Departments to make wellbeing real for actual budgets.
In a sense it can also become an accountability framework for any government because it’s easier to see where funding is having the best effect.
Part of this is a wellbeing approach to cost-benefit analysis. It’s enlightened and enlightening.
In the last budget his Department was the target of a political hit – I won’t prejudge the results of it yet since the investigation continues. It’s not material to what has been delivered anyway.
But in order to make a new framework for budgets in New Zealand, it takes a totally policy-focussed team. Mr Makhlouf’s broad experience in policy framework development in tax, welfare, banking, and operational delivery was critical for the success of this budget and its framework.
This achievement needs to be separated from whether we think the budget was weighted better or worse in any one spending category. The framework is there and it is likely to endure.
That is as good a tribute to the work of a public servant as one could wish for.