Governments need to embed “wellbeing” into the heart of the public service, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has told an audience in Melbourne.
Ms Ardern provided an overview of sweeping changes to the nation’s public service during a speech titled Why does good government matter at a function hosted by Melbourne City Council and the Australia and New Zealand School of Government on Thursday night.
Ms Ardern said her government this year delivered its first Wellbeing Budget, putting the wellness of New Zealanders front and centre.
“We said not only ‘What will be most conducive to economic growth’ but also, more fundamentally: ‘What will do the most to improve the lives of New Zealanders’,” she said.
That theme is now underpinning what is set to be the biggest shake-up of the nation’s public service in 30 years, Ms Ardern said.
“We need to embed the idea of wellbeing in the heart of our public service – how it works, what it prioritises, who joins and leads it,” she said.
“That is why earlier this year we announced that we would refocus the New Zealand public service to deliver enduring change, more strongly focused on improving the current and future wellbeing of all New Zealanders.”
Ms Ardern said the NZ public service had a strong international reputation for responsiveness, effectiveness and integrity, ranking second overall in civil service performance among 38 countries in the 2019 International Civil Service Effectiveness Index.
Meanwhile the recently released 2018 Kiwis Count Survey showed New Zealanders have increasing trust in the public service and satisfaction with services is at an all-time high.
However Ms Ardern said like Australia, which has been undertaking an independent review of the APS, NZ was committed to building a more modern, agile and adaptive public service by strengthening culture and leadership, increasing flexibility and capability, and working collectively.
New public services legislation
NZ State Services Minister Chris Hipkins announced in June that the government would repeal the existing State Sector Act and replace it with a new Public Service Act aimed at breaking down silos and unifying the public sector.
“This will underpin a modernising of the Public Service for the good of New Zealanders and make it easier to tackle the biggest challenges facing the Government of the day,” Ms Ardern said on Thursday.
Under the changes, boards, or joint ventures, made up of chief executives from relevant government agencies will be established. The boards will be accountable to a single minister and will receive direct budget appropriations and deploy public servants from across the board.
For example, the budget has funded initiatives to tackle family and sexual violence, which will be delivered across numerous relevant portfolios including Health, Justice, Police, Social Development and Attorney General, Ms Ardern said.
“The shift to a single, unified public service approach will be complemented by cultural change with the new Act acknowledging that a ‘spirit of service to the community’ is fundamental to the Public Service,” she said.
“A unified public sector around common purpose, principles and values is crucial and we believe we can encourage that practically by making it easier for public servants to move seamlessly through the public service as a whole.”
The NZ public service workforce will also become more diverse and inclusive to reflect the communities it serves, she said.
The changes will be phased in over the next 12 months.
However the opposition has criticised the changes, saying they will make the public sector more expensive, less accountable and more centralised.
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