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Public Service meltdown

Written By: - Date published: 7:33 am, December 21st, 2018 - 55 comments
Categories: accountability, jacinda ardern, Politics, public services, workers' rights - Tags:

Shit is going down.

Police. Transport. Housing. MFAT. Christchurch. Health. Education

Prime Minister does not sack Wally Haumaha, on advice of Solicitor General and Independent Police Authority, despite PM going all-out on pro women and anti bullying to get into power.

Primary and secondary school industrial action deep into next year.

Head of NZTA resigns last week, with NZTA in total turmoil. Major report to Parliament in March and more big damage coming.

Kiwibuild Chief Executive not working and in employment dispute.

Public Service Commissioner has to go on tv apologising for agencies including MFAT spying on citizen activists against agribusiness.

Christchurch Southern Response head fired and replaced.

Ministry of Health restructuring and resignations.

All inside 2 weeks.

Here’s the teetering balance: how much Wellington-political-economy damage can this lot sustain while pushing reform across so many Ministries?

Many knives, many backs, making enemies that deliver their goods to National and then to media. That’s the perpetual cycle. Attrition really drags government down many gears.

Governments rely on public servants.

Can reform momentum last when so many Ministries are so pissed off?

55 comments on “Public Service meltdown”

  1. JanM 1

    The shambles in the public service has taken a long time to develop – it’s going to take a long time to recover, and it could get very messy while it’s sorted.
    For a start, I think we need to go back and have some serious reflection on what the definition of ‘public servant’ actually is.

    • patricia bremner 1.1

      JanM I couldn’t agree more!! Some of these heads of department characters were hand picked for their particular beliefs, and have infused their departments with their own interpretation of “Public Service”

      This view generally followed the belief that the public had no rights, and a neo liberal line would not only be followed but promoted.

      Much of the work done shows ingrained attitudes of sexism even racism, and the odd proven case of spying and manipulating of statistics. When a past National Minister calls one of the perpetrators “A gentleman” you get the picture.

      Any journalist trying to uncover what the inquiry finally did, was moved on or moved out. Good to see John Campbell back on TV1.

      Jacinda will tell the people how she feels, and what is causing some decisions.
      Winston will keep being Winston, and James Shaw will keep his eye on the oil.

      They work as a team. Mallard is frustrating the opposition, so has become a target.
      Any effective Minister can expect the same relentless negativity from the Right.

      Just now David Moffett says “he is coming for” and “Going to get you” to the PM and her Deputy.

      Will all that wear the Government down? Possibly, but not probably, as I think they have a planned approach and clearly aligned goals which allow them to know their direction and purpose. Internal nasties are anticipated as vested interests show their teeth.

      Externals are the problem.
      We have scant control of Trump May, or the climate. Plus our faultline timebomb. These are the “Rainy Day” Robertson, like his predecessor Cullen anticipates.

      I’m anticipating a budget formed under new rules which will show real change, the ground work having been decided in the new monetary framework. Let’s do this!!

      • Anne 1.1.1

        Thank-you patricia bremner. Well said. Nothing left to be said except most of this “shit” began under the previous administration and some of it was wholly caused by the policies of that same administration. It was always known that Labour was going to have to pick up the pieces and that it would take a term or two before they succeeded.

        The one exception is the Wally Haumaha affair. I find the so-called “advice” given to the Prime Minister incomprehensible. Can’t speak for anyone else but I’m angry as hell he is still in the job. It feels like a slap in the face for every woman who has ever been harassed, bullied and intimidated.

        Lest we forget, we are still second class citizens ladies.

        • patricia bremner

          Yes Anne, and Jacinda showed her feelings with an icy anger that may give one or two of these perpetrators notice. Thank for your feed back.

        • SPC

          WH remains because of NZF and the Labour Maori MP’s (one of their own was stood down but not her AND WH). No other reason.

        • JanM

          I agree that Wally Haumaha’s behaviour was definitely not ok, but a lot of these guys have been around this toxic culture so long they have little insight into it. He’s still ‘bewildered’, but I should think that by the time he’s been laundered through some effective Professional Development he might just see the error of his ways! I think he needs a second chance, but yes, I saw the look on Jacinda’s face – he won’t be carrying on like that any more if he know’s what’s good for him! If you tossed out all the men in this country in positions of power who harbour unpleasant sexist attitudes, we’d be facing a melt-down, I think. Bit by bit, attitudes will change, if we keep working at it 🙂
          The thing is, it’s pointless being bitter, it only makes you take to the bottle or gives you ulcers!

      • Tamati Tautuhi 1.1.2

        Who is David Moffet, Aussie Muppet ?

      • alwyn 1.1.3

        “They work as a team. Mallard is frustrating the opposition, so has become a target.
        Any effective Minister can expect the same relentless negativity from the Right.”

        You clearly don’t understand how Parliament is meant to work. You are absolutely correct that Mallard is frustrating the Opposition. However he is meant to be a NEUTRAL Referee, and he isn’t. He refuses to do that and goes out of his way to protect the Government from questioning. Go back and look at how Lockwood Smith operated as Speaker and then look at Trevor.
        It is no wonder that the Opposition are unhappy.

        • KJT

          Lockwood Smith, did not have to deal with a bunch of entitled, petulant, childish, sore losers in opposition, who are intent on disruption, destruction and dishonest “gotcha” politics.

          • alwyn

            “a bunch of entitled, petulant, childish, sore losers in opposition, who are intent on disruption, destruction and dishonest “gotcha” politics.”

            That sounds like a perfect description of the Labour Party after the 2008 election.
            I will admit he never had to deal with anyone like the current deputy PM, aka The Drunken Dwarf, in the 2008 – 2011 term.

            • KJT

              No opposition, as long as I have been watching Parliament, is as childishly destructive as the current one.

              Just a continuation of our history of right wing vandalism, by people who have never read a book.

              Bridges is the best they have. FFS.

  2. Gabby 2

    They might have been even more pissed off before, having to work under a bunch of vindictive incompetents. Hummer’s got friends in the right places, interesting to see whether he’s given rein to extract utu.

    • patricia bremner 2.1

      Gabby, is that how you see his role. ‘ to extract utu?’ Are you saying he will now target those women who complained? If you are, that tells us a great deal about your beliefs and attitudes.. none of it good.

      • Gabby 2.1.1

        That’s how I see his nature, and that of his enablers.

        • patricia bremner

          Oh so you know him? That gives a different slant.

          • patricia bremner

            Of interest was the comments by WH’s lawyer ‘you don’t know what the women did’
            Still victim blaming, still the ‘she asked for it’ mentality.

            • greywarshark

              To be honest, we are jumping to conclusions based on prejudice, and a past of WH that had some faults which raises suspicion. But the lawyer’s point remains that we don’t know….. We haven’t all the facts, and females don’t always tell all the truth, or do see things through their own biases, even though they may be the superior gender.

              • Anne

                … females don’t always tell all the truth,…

                Its been my humble experience, the females who don’t tell the truth are almost always trying to discredit another female. Also in this case there were three females. Its highly unlikely they were all lying.

                • KJT

                  The person I know, who openly gloated about falsely accusing her boss of sexual harassment, to get his job.

                  I agree though, the personal consequences of reporting harassment, and bullying, are often so dire, that the majority of complaints are genuine. As things are at the moment, with very little rights for workers, it is very dangerous to complain.

                  We are dealing with it, with one of our bosses at present. He is currently trying to single out and retaliate, against those making the complaints.

  3. Ross 3

    So many ministries are pissed off? Yeah nah you are thinking of the previous government which treated public servants with contempt.

    The only person delivering the goods to National is Mrs Sroubek. 🙂

  4. Ross 4

    “Prime Minister does not sack Wally Haumaha, on advice of Solicitor General and Independent Police Authority, despite PM going all-out on pro women and anti bullying to get into power.”

    You do know the two aren’t mutually exclusive. I am anti bullying and anti wrongful dismissal. I’m weird like that.

    • SPC 4.1

      Which really speaks to the culture of police where bullying is tolerated and the IPA is their defence counsel – thus bullying and the like is a legacy of a culture of self-policing and lack of accountability.

      The Solicitor General – looks like bullying but won’t call it bullying coz they get way with it, because they should have greater independence from government oversight than others.

  5. Ed1 5

    “Christchurch Southern Response head fired and replaced.”

    There is no evidence that he was fired, or induced to resign – all reports except comments from Gerry Brownlee indicate that he resigned on certain information becoming public, and before the Minister had spoken to him.

    Perhaps Brownlee has more credibility than many thought!

    • tc 5.1

      Coming from Gerry’s near zero credibility start that’s not hard to do. Just show some glimpse of humanity….Then back to belligerent brownlee BAU.

    • patricia bremner 5.2

      A separate Police Referrals Board should be created to examine such cases. IMO.

  6. Dennis Frank 6

    Not being a public servant or Wellingtonian, all this strikes me as much ado about nothing. If it means non-performers being replaced by someone better, all to the good. I’m hoping these are all just minor quakes, precursors to something more transformational. If this govt can initiate a culture shift towards professional competence and accountability in the public service the benefits will spread across the political spectrum and downstream to business and everyone else for decades!

    • OnceWasTim 6.1

      Believe me @ Denis, they’re not “minor quakes” The culture that has been allowed to grow and become normalised over the past 30 or more years is going to take a while to correct. I think I commented here maybe, or possibly on TDB that one of the biggest obstacles to the Coalition government implementing its policies and trying to become ‘transformational’ was going to be the PS. And by that, I didn’t mean the poor bloody peons at the coalface – many grinding their arses off, but their managers and the Senior Management and CEO’s of many of these dysfunctional little (and huge) fiefdoms – who (as even Mathew Hooton once said – bless his little cotton socks) have a vested interest in preserving the status quo.

      It’s a culture that even the best of them have to fall in line with when they put career and advancement, and prestige above all else. (I’ll give one example:
      Ngatata Love, who when he lost his ‘minders’ succumbed to the inevitable).

      So I actually have no sympathy for some little weasel who Gerry Brownlee is having a bromance with when he fucks up. The best that can be said of the guy is that he had the decency to resign.

      Some of them managed to escape accountability (such as a MoBIE Smol – and deepest sympathy to his successor), but rest assured there are a few little arse lickers still desperate to take His place, and who Ministers are almost obliged to say they “have confidence in”. Unfortunately – more fool them. They’re hard at it, and they can lie like a trooper, and when straight-faced, feign concern. It’s the nature of a Public Service that’s in-tune with ‘The Market The Market’ and which has drivers that in all cases have economic imperatives over the social.

      And bear in mind, a good many in the PS workforce – especially the underlings – have grown up and have never known, nor experienced anything other than the corporatism and neo-liberal practices that are now commonplace.

      Great that all this is now Whoar! Shock! Horror! Outrage!. It’s only that because now a few Masters of the Universe have been caught with their pants down exposing themselves

      Maybe now that the search function is now back (apparently) in action, we can see that a few on here, AND many others using other means have been protesting the decay for quite a while.

      • Dennis Frank 6.1.1

        Yes I’m aware of the indoctrinating effect of workplace culture. There’s a paradigm shift required. I trust that it will result from what the current govt does next year, but if not c’est la vie. The PSA is an option for good public servants to use as a reform vehicle (but I realise that it could be captive to the residual empire bureaucracy culture too).

        • OnceWasTim

          For now, the best that can be done is to keep all of this alive, and in whatever media outlet is available.
          I’ve never been an advocate for putting people in the stocks (as you’ll be aware from some of the comments around the Sroubek bullshit), or in ends justify means ………..
          But hey (as they say in the new world), maybe naming names is going to be the only way – especially when some of these Masters of the Universe have already put themselves publicly on record, and are now desperately trying to backtrack.

      • greywarshark 6.1.2

        A Christmas dinner from Bowalley Road with plenty of meat to chew on and finishing with the plum pudding flaming up. There is quality reading in this link on how the neo lib culture has advanced and recognises only those who get into line, and bureaucrats and rank and file do so as a default position.

        Pat has also put this up from TDB link where it first appeared.

        • KJT

          I used to wonder where the Nazi’s got their Sonderkommando and death camp guards, from?

          After recent experience with some WINZ staff and police, while supporting youngsters, I don’t wonder any more.

  7. Michael 7

    If the Government really wants to “reform” the way it’s bureaucratic functionaries behave, it must make an example out of some of them to encourage the others. A “Labour” government will never do this because it is owned by the PSA, even though it refuses to affiliate with the Party (because that would annoy the Nats). Therefore, the Government is not serious about “reform” or anything like it. Any changes will be strictly cosmetic and the machinery of government will remain stuck on National Party settings pending the restoration of the National (aka “Natural”) Party of Government.

    • Marcus Morris 7.1

      Spoken like a truly right wing troll. I don’t usually bother with Tweets but there is an interesting thread going at the moment. Jerry Brownlee was invited to front up to Lisa Owen on Checkpoint re the Christchurch recovery. His response says it all. His pathetic response hasn’t got much support.

    • patricia bremner 7.2

      This is a Coalition Government, and if you think the changes are cosmetic dream on.

      • soddenleaf 7.2.1

        Yes, with NFZ in there… ..but seriously that user accountant left a mess even the NFZ could not ever had achieved. worst pm ever.

  8. Pat 8

    Its systemic and will take considerable time to reverse….if it can be at all. The incentives from a market model state sector were predicted and inevitable….model the state sector on private business and dont be surprised when they behave so.


    • patricia bremner 8.1

      Pat, a thoughtful and well constructed article from The Daily Blog. His points are valid, but as I said earlier, the changes being made to the monetary framework are to correct many of those wrongs created under Douglas.

      We see Kris Faafoi creating a supporting framework of consumer protections, along with Orr and Robertson’s work in finance treasury and banking.

      With this comes a supportive taxation framework, and educational and changing work situation with supports and laws.

      This Coalition Government is working steadily towards massive changes for people.

      • Pat 8.1.1

        The point is without the removal of the underlying incentives there can be no culture change even if ALL staff were replaced (an unrealistic short/medium term proposition)….and that is in effect a repudiation of the neo-lib model of the previous decades…..can you hand on heart say that this Gov. is acting thus because despite pre election rhetoric from both Labour and NZ First there is little tangible evidence of such a repudiation.

    • soddenleaf 8.2

      yes. Take the new HamAwk rail. Why use, or build a new station, so far from potential customers. oh they need park and ride, wtf, the rail runs past tens of thousands. Its simple, build a flat concrete slab in east hamilton next to the line, and another at Nawton. move the existing station at Frankston selling the land for homes. And profit from a happy functioning rail service. Or… stuff up the central station, infill land around the Frankton station so no room for nowt, and setup the base for huge profitable parking fees. Geez, why not just dumb down Hamilton some more.

  9. I thought we were having a ‘kind’ ‘incremental’ set of changes so as to not ‘upset the apple cart’ too much.
    To bring the public service (and the public in general) along with us.

    I’ve heard that mantra repeatedly from the wise ones.

    Yet here we are.

    Labour’s appeasement to the moderate’s is not enough.

    Its alot like Labour’s policies designed to win over the ‘soft’ National voters. Who we now know, thanks to election results and polling, don’t actually exist.

    Sorry folks, but remarketing centrist Liberal left-wingish Parties and policies is never going to work.
    We need a revolution of policy, around spending, Public debt, wages and pretty much everything you can think of that the Government could influence .

    The equivalent of the Douglas/Lange revolution, but in the opposite direction.
    You know, Douglas/lange never asked permission, they didn’t even explain what was happening and its ramifications. Yet we are still living our daily lives under their policy cloud, so why not give NZ a real makeover for an actual ‘kinder’ future?

    • Dennis Frank 9.1

      Yes, that’s what I’d like to see. Reconceptualising the entirety of governance, that’s a large part of why I joined the Greens in 1990, and I’m hoping our current govt uses this term to provide a basis for that.

      Problem is, pragmatism works sufficiently to allow adhocery to become the prevalent mind-set – whereas vision and design skills are required for long-term planning. We need to see them learn to walk & chew gum simultaneously…

      • Gabby 9.1.1

        Maybe that’s what Stephen Barclay’s up to – reconceptualising. I thought he might’ve just thrown a strop at being told to pull his finger out and do some work.

        • Dennis Frank

          Could be the dispute is about being told that, but when your employer is the govt the question becomes who tells who what, eh? One suspects a considerable morass of reconceptualising can easily develop around the plan and the implementation. Probably emanating from competing interpretations about what specific clauses in his employment contract actually mean.

          “Look, I was hired to do xyz, it says so right here!” “No, that bit actually means you were hired to do abc, as we discussed and agreed.” “Well, why doesn’t it actually say that??” “Come on, are you suggesting that legalese ought to be replaced by plain English? Get real. That’ll never happen!”

  10. patricia bremner 10

    That is the point. Such seemingly small changes had huge ramifications. As you say, we now need the same in reverse,
    When the changes first happened we couldn’t believe how quickly the machinery of Government could change… but it did … and it will again.
    Why do you think those forces are aligning against this Government with shrill cries? They see their cosy world threatened with sharing.

    • Pat 10.1

      Well as with CC, the foreshadowed changes of next year will be revealing and make or break the parties of this Government……given all that has gone before I wont be surprised if the action dosnt match the rhetoric.

  11. Dorothy Bulling 11

    What happened to the idea that public servants should be apolitical? How many dtooges did the Key/English administration slot in to government departments to do the dirty work for them? Should heads of govt entities have to go when an election produces a different result?

    • Craig H 11.1

      Potentially, if the Public Service is to be politicised. Works well in the USA, after all…

  12. Michelle 12

    I’m very happy he kept his job its good for our Maori people that have had to deal with a monocultural system that has mainly benefitted the colonisers and now its benefitting new immigrants who look just like the colonisers.

  13. Dennis Frank 13

    Chris Trotter: “That multiple state agencies felt entitled to contract-out the gathering of political intelligence to the privately owned and operated Thompson & Clark Investigations Ltd reveals a widespread antidemocratic disdain for citizens’ rights within the New Zealand public service. The alarming revelations of the State Services’ inquiry raise two very important questions: How did this disdain for democratic norms become so entrenched? And what, if anything, can Jacinda Ardern’s government do to eradicate it?” http://bowalleyroad.blogspot.com/2018/12/working-towards-fuhrer.html

    We ought to wait until the coalition has a go at reform of the public service next year. But his other question is worth considering. Class consciousness is the obvious answer. Public servants are conscious that they are ruling class operatives. Consequently they must serve that class, not just the public. The only way that historical norm can be transformed is via the culture shift that replaces the prevailing ethos and conventions with those suitably designed to be sustainable in perpetuity.

    The ruling class is constrained by the structure of democracy, but insufficiently. Compulsion to serve the public is one missing element that must be inserted into the system. Removing the option to serve only the interests of the ruling class would prevent capture by an alien belief system (such as neoliberalism).

    • OnceWasTim 13.1

      He’s not wrong @ Denis. But as you probably know, here’s how it works:
      If you are able to successfully label Trotter as a hard left nutter, or that he’s a bitter old curmudgeon who thinks he’s God’s gift to the Left, or whatever else – you’ve managed to shoot the messenger – as was Thompson and Clark’s intent in many cases. And once that’s done, then you can then justify calling whatever he says as nonsense.

      The problem the PS now has (and the gNats for that matter) is that there is a bit of a groundswell happening where more and more people who’ve been affected in some way by the sort of culture that’s now pervasive in the PS, as well as researchers in academia, and from those within the system itself are now singing the same tune.

    • KJT 13.2

      Which is why we need Swiss style binding referenda, as the final safeguard.

      Government hasn’t worked for us, since 1984.

      The latest contempt for democracy was the signing of the TPPA. Which sets the corporate Neo-liberal rules, in concrete.

  14. Descendant Of Smith 14

    The SSC predominantly serves the interests of the Chief Executive and according to family members does little for the everyday public servant apart from issue code of conduct and election year messaging.

    SSC plays an active role in reducing working conditions e.g. space per person in offices, overseeing a massive increase in the use of temporary staff, lack of control in filling positions leaving many public servants in limbo as jobs have “acting” staff which means for or more others then act down the line and that they can fill acting positions with the favoured few with no right of review for those who miss out. Apparently, it’s common to have people acting for a few years – and then despite having done well and received good performance reviews all that time to miss out when they do appoint to an external. Disagreement over direction, strategy or activity is seen as being negative – and even more so when the advice/prediction given turns out to be correct.

    Five skilled long serving public servants in my family have resigned this year. All have been snapped up in the private sector as they have skills but feel no one is listening any more to them in the public sector. The rise of the managerial class who don’t need to know anything about the functions of the organisation e.g. how to do stuff has been catastrophic and the SSC is both complicit and active in this.

    Taylorism is rife with its slave-like division of labour in order to be efficient but have no-one understand the complete picture. Centralisation to large urban centres leaves regions without support and jobs and exacerbates the Wellington influence. MBIE has an undue influence across the public service and the regions but has no staff in the regions to do anything so just annoy the crap out of everyone.

    I’ll be looking forward to catching up with my public service (including ex-public service) relatives over Christmas to see how the year has progressed.

    I’ve picked a strong emphasis on attitudinal change being driven by the managerial class e.g. it is the frontline staff attitudes that need fixing rather than anything structural or managerial. After all the modern manager is apparently a leopard that can change it’s spots – be one thing under one government, another under a different one. What they aren’t doing any more is serving the public.

    The SSC no longer supports the ordinary public servant and change needs to occur there.

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