Nats attack public service neutrality

Written By: - Date published: 12:55 am, May 13th, 2010 - 24 comments
Categories: democracy under attack, democratic participation, human rights, public services, workers' rights - Tags:

I’ve been having a look at the new advice on the civil service code of conduct, which the Herald reported on the other day.

It goes far too far and is a clear attempt by the Nats to make sure the civil service is ‘politically correct’ for their purposes. Perhaps they’re tired of getting official advice that says ‘don’t cut that, it’s good value for money’, ‘don’t fund that, it’s stupid’, and ‘don’t pass that law, it might cause more murders’.

Being a civil servant does not mean getting a brain-wipe. A civil servant has always been allowed to have their personal beliefs and there is no need to renounce them on becoming a civil servant. The only rule is that they behave neutrally, not that they are neutral in their hearts. The code of conduct advice says that it’s OK to have political beliefs and be part of political organisations.

As a general rule, we are free to belong to any lawful organisation. Our rights to participate in social campaigns and the activities of political parties, unions and professional associations are not precluded because we work in the State Services… participation in party politics is not likely to affect the confidence that the Government has in the organisation we work for, and is not likely to undermine our ability to work with future governments. What we must do is ensure that we do not confuse our political rights with our employment responsibilities… It means we must always be conscious of our shared responsibility to ensure that our organisation maintains the confidence of Ministers.

Under Labour, National MPs-to-be John Hayes, Tim Groser, and Hekia Parata were all civil servants and, quite rightly, their association with the National Party was no problem because they behaved professionally.

It’s outrageous, then, that National is now trying to make windows into men’s souls, that they want civil service managers into thought-police:

We are encouraged to discuss actual or intended political activities with our manager who should be in a position to clarify the relationship between our employment responsibilities and our freedom to exercise civil rights.

So suddenly, unprecedentedly, civil servants are meant to tell their managers if they belong to a political party. There can be no reason for the civil service to have this information, unless they intend to treat workers differently on the basis of their politics (frankly, too many civil servants are already afraid to join a union or political party because they think it is frowned upon). Civil servants will be treated differently not, on the basis of their work or professionalism, but on their beliefs. It is a fundamental attack on their democratic rights.

It gets worse:

Our political interests and activities (and possibly even the political interests of a close family member) have the potential to conflict with our obligations as State servants. The effective management of such conflicts must balance the role of the organisation we work for and its relationship to the Government, the importance of encouraging a strong democracy, and our personal rights as New Zealanders.

Wow. So you can get a mark against your name if your partner or your siblings or parents are involved in (the wrong kind of) politics.

This actually serves to undermine the neutrality of the public service. It is like hanging a notice on the door saying ‘only politically correct applicants need apply’.

24 comments on “Nats attack public service neutrality”

  1. Anne 1

    As a former public servant this is moving into totalitarian territory. It’s utterly appalling. Will the MSM do any investigative probing on this new code of conduct? Well, if the interview with Key on Close Up last night is any indication the answer is… no.

  2. Brett 2

    Recreating a neutral public service is a good thing for NZ.
    A section of the public service has to realize they are there to serve NZ not the Labour party or the unions.
    If you struggle with that concept than maybe you would be better being employed somewhere else.

    • Tigger 2.1

      Brett – please provide evidence of public servants serving the Labour party and/or unions in their daily work.

  3. Dan 3

    How wide is “public service’? The Wellington office dwellers only, or does it include the wider catchment of police, customs, nurses, teachers, etc?

    • Marty G 3.1

      the civil service that is covered by the code of conduct is what you term the ‘office dwellers’, because they are the administrators who directly service the government of the day. Teachers, nurses etc aren’t required to behave with political neutrality.

      • ghostwhowalksnz 3.1.1

        I think you are wrong here. The ‘civil service’ it covers is listed at the bottom of the 3rd page, and the entities it doesnt cover are Tertiary organisations and Crown Research Institutes.
        The School Boards of Trustees ( employers of teachers) seem to be covered but not trustees themselves. The wording is a bit circular in the last one.
        Im reading it to cover all public servants, including those who are companies and teachers

        • Dan

          It is this lack of clarity that worries me. I guess if the definition “public service” is for the smaller group of office dwellers, then it would not be long before the requirement is spread to all paid by the public purse. Whichever way, it is a dangerous move for a functioning democracy.
          Didn’t the NACT party campaign on getting rid of the nanny state? I must have missed something.

  4. And what does the other section of the public service have to realize Brett? that they are not there to serve the National Party, Act or any other right wing cause.
    You really are an idiot if you think that everyone in the public service is aligned with Labour or the left wing.
    Any if you real;y have a clue, you would realize that rules like this are more akin to communist China or the soviet republic, not a right wing party lead by “smile and wave”

    • Brett 4.1

      I said “some” dumbass not everyone.
      If Labour were in power and there was a group of people within the public service that were aligned to National/ Act who went out of their way to undermine Labour than the same applies – they would be better being employed somewhere else.

      • Marty G 4.1.1

        Brett. If someone doesn’t act neutrally in their work or makes it impossible for the government and the minister to trust that their work is neutral, that is not allowed and has never been allowed.

        We’re not talking about behaviour with these extensions – we’re talking about beliefs. We shouldn’t get to discriminate on workers because of their personal beliefs, much less their families’ beliefs.

        You’re not the most informed person, brett, so you might have missed the reference to ‘not making windows into men’s souls’. That’s what Elizabeth I said when it was compulsory for people to attend the church services of the Church of England – she said as long as people carried out the required actions, what they actually believed didn’t matter to her.

        • Brett

          All depends if these personal beliefs start effecting their neutrality.
          The leaks that have come out of the public service lately eg mining Great Barrier make me believe that certain factions of the public service are letting their beliefs cloud their decision making.

          ” You’re not the most informed person, brett, so you might have missed the reference to ‘not making windows into men’s souls’. That’s what Elizabeth I said when ………….”
          Wow! “Check out the big brain on Marty G”.

          • Draco T Bastard

            The leaks on mining Great Barrier and the rest were a public service. The government may not have liked it but the public needed to know so that they cold make informed decisions.

  5. Santi 5

    Pot calling the kettle black. Labour was as bad, if not worse. Do not cry wolf, because nobody will believe you.

    Remember Ms. Setchell?

    • Marty G 5.1

      And we agree that what happened in that case was wrong. Now, the problem is that National has made what happened to Setchell perfectly normal and acceptable.

      Easy to understand Santi.

    • Fisiani 5.2

      Labour NEVER accepted that what happened to Madeleine Setchell was wrong.

  6. tc 6

    I’m afraid Brett’s echoing the thinking of alot of right wingnuts……we’re in power we can do what we like and justify it with some convenient rhetoric……sod the rights of individuals we own the public service now.

  7. SteveR 7

    Is it possible to find out where these changes originated? I.e. who suggested them in the first place? It *sounds* like the SSC came up with them itself—but why would they?

    Monitoring and acting on the *beliefs* of people and their families is a step that even the “nanny state” didn’t take—and once this becomes enculturated in the civil service, it won’t be that big a step to extend for sensible, justifiable reasons, of course—so perhaps those teachers etc. are next!

    • Mac1 7.1

      Considering that Exclusive Brethren schools seem now to be able to exclude teachers in ‘relationships’, or who are not believers, or who will tolerate only the expurgated and the officially sanctioned, it’s not such a big step to extend this allowance to BOTs in general or the Ministry or better still the Minister.

      Get rid of those pesky wage claims, too, and unionists, why not?

      This government is beyond ‘Nanny’ State to “Billy Goat” State or is that Bully State? Same rank smell, anyway.

      Reductio ad absurdum? I hope so, but fear not.

  8. Alexandra 8

    The changes to the code are extremely intrusive. I dont think its any of the employers business what your or families political interests are, unless of course those interests cross the line and interfere with your work. If I recall information leaks happen regardless of political governance. Id be keen to know whether the code breaches of rights to privacy and the Bill of Rights????

  9. Lew 9

    Trevor Loudon will be thrilled.


  10. Rharn 10

    I wonder what transgression will be thought up for those that do not ‘confess’ their political leanings where ideology is different from their masters.

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