Q+A: Chris Hipkins on reforming the public service

Minister of Education (and Minister of a bunch of other things) was interviewed on Q+A last night, about various wage claims and about the public service overall – he said that they will be talking more over the next few weeks about a programme aimed at reforming the public service so it delivered better outcomes for New Zealanders.

Hipkins was asked whether the announcement that performance pay for public service CEOs would be scrapped was a signal to  nurses seeking pay rises. He said it was a separate policy that had been worked on for some time.

He says they are focussed pay equity claims. The Government wants to see wage restraint “at the top end of the system”, but want to deal with issues for people on low incomes on people – “at the worker end”.

Hipkins didn’t want to get into the detail on negotiations under way with teachers, who are asking for a 16% increase. They are not exactly at the low end as far as wages go.

Bargaining with secondary teachers is just beginning and he acknowledges that their expectations are high, but quickly diverted to other issues facing teachers.

Challenged on expectations after their election campaigning he says they are offering much more than the previous Government did (it much different economic circumstances), and then diverts again – “we made a very clear commitment that we could do better than the last Government, and i believe we are doing better than the last Government, but our commitment during the campaign was crystal clear, that our first priority would be those on the lowest incomes, and in the school system that’s people like teacher aides, we’ve got a pay equity claim there that we’re working on.

But the priority for nurses was their own wages. Same for primary teachers. Neither can be classed as low wage earners. Especially if they get the increases they are seeking they will be above average earners.

When challenged that teacher claims were not a priority Hipkins said that no, they were ‘a priority’. So ‘priority’ seems to be a fairly broad term here.

Asked about dropping state sector performance pay, in relation to teachers, this meant that poor performers will paid the same as good performers.

Hipkins: The changes their recognise that actually good outcomes require a team effort. In all public services delivering better outcomes for New Zealanders is a team effort, and therefore singling one or two people out and giving them significant bonuses doesn’t reflect the fact that actually many people contribute to that outcome.

Dann: Are your Government sending a message to the state sector, teachers, people who work for the Government, that they’ve almost got to have a sense of civil duty here, that there’s a civil service, you’re doing it for the love of it. That’s got to be a part of it doesn’t it?

Hipkins: It’s in the name. It’s public service. We do expect it to be public service.

Security of employment and pay rates suggests that being a public servant can be a pretty good deal compared to many workers in the private sector.

Dann: When you’re on four hundred grand or something running a state sector, that’s ah, that’s little bit more than just doling it for the love of it isn’t it?

Hipkins: Look, people at the senior end of the public service are well paid, and we’ve been very clear um that our priority…

Dann: Is it too much? I mean in general if could’ve gone back nine years you wouldn’t be paying them this much, would you.

Hipkins: Well I wouldn’t have wanted to see the big growth in chief executive salaries that we’ve seen over the last nine years…we start from the position that we’ve removed the performance that is going to result in a downward dip in chief executive’s overall package.

Following the team player thing, should principals, teachers and teacher aids all be paid similar amounts in providing a public service?

Hipkins: I’m not at all concerned that that we’re not going to be able to recruit very very good public service leaders because of the changes we’ve made to remove the bonuses.

A political neutral public service:

Hipkins: The Government as a whole has got an absolute commitment to a politically neutral public service. We think that the public service should be able to serve us as a Government, and whomever the next Government is.

On reforming the public service:

Hipkins: We’ve got a very broad public sector reform programme which we’re going to be talking a bit more about in the next few weeks. It is about reforming the public service. It is about focussing on delivering better outcomes for New Zealanders.

Pushed on Shane Jones’ comments on being able to appoint his own ‘shit-kickers’ to get what he wants done.

Hipkins: I think the Government as a whole isn’t going to go down the route of politicising the senior level of public the service.

Dann: Is there scope for Jones’ suggestion in specific cases under this new reform you’re talking about.

Hipkins: Well there’s already some scope to do that within the existing system.

Dann: More scope?

Hipkins: Look, we’ll work our way through that.

Dann: You seem to be suggesting to me that it’s possible because you’re not wanting to answer this question.

Hipkins: Well no, what I’m saying is we’re going too keep a politically neutral public service. That’s beyond debate. Ministers can appoint purchase advisers for example within their ministerial offices whop will provide them with free and frank advice, give them an alternative stream of advice. They can go to the treasury for example and get alternative advice to the ones supplied by their department. All of those things are possible now.

Getting advice is quite different from shit kicking to get things done the way the Minister wants. Hipkins has avoided answering on that.

What’s the key thrust of the reforms?

Hipkins: What we’re focussed on is moving the public service from a working in silos to actually looking at working across public service and saying if we want to deliver better outcomes for New Zealanders that’s going to require Government departments to work together rather than just focussing on their own individual patch.

It could be quite a challenge trying to break down public servant patch protection.

Hipkins: The concept that I’d talk about is ‘no wrong door’. If someone’s interacting with the public service i think they get frustrated when they say well no, actually you’ve got to deal with that department, then you’ve got to deal with that department and they’re given the run around.

We don’t want tot see that. Actually I want to see the public service operating as a coordinated whole, to deliver the services that New Zealanders…

Dann: It sounds quite radical.

Hipkins: I think it will see some significant changes.

Reforming the public service to work more as a whole team sounds like quite a challenge.


  1. adamsmith1922

     /  August 27, 2018

    Hipkins spouts claptrap

    • Blazer

       /  August 27, 2018

      sure you’re not ..related.

      You’re not even…pithy!

      • adamsmith1922

         /  August 27, 2018

        Thank you for your incoherent abuse.I will wear it as a badge of honour.

        • David

           /  August 27, 2018

          Blazer is always grumpy first thing in the morning

        • Blazer

           /  August 27, 2018

          inchoherent?Won’t be as subtle next …time.

          • adamsmith1922

             /  August 27, 2018

            Clearly rational thought is not your strong point

            • Blazer

               /  August 27, 2018

              such indepth discussion you bring to the forum.

              If you have an opinion, try and develop the justification that made you form it.

            • PDB

               /  August 27, 2018

              Pot-kettle-black there Blazer considering with 95% of your posts you could fit the facts that back up your assertions on a postage stamp.

            • Blazer

               /  August 27, 2018

              nice of you to help him out PDB ,he needs it.If mine could fit on a postage stamp,yours could fit on the head of a…pin.

      • adamsmith1922

         /  August 27, 2018

        Reference your last comment below,you abused me, with no justification other than you clearly disagreed with my original comment,which was short and to the point. Your attitude is obnoxious.

        • Blazer

           /  August 27, 2018

          take a look at yourself.

          Your original comment offers nothing to back your assertion.

          • Gezza

             /  August 27, 2018

            Tru dat. 😐

            • PDB

               /  August 27, 2018

              Hipkins almost always talks shit, why would this time be any different?

            • Gezza

               /  August 27, 2018

              claptrap (klaptrap)
              absurd or nonsensical talk or ideas.
              “such sentiments are just pious claptrap”
              Hmm. Yeah, ok. Fair enuf. Yous can have that one. 👍

  2. Gezza

     /  August 27, 2018

    From my own experience of 34 years in the Public Service every change of government since the Douglas administration reorganises the Public Service. For most Public Servants it’ll just be another BOHICA situation – bend over here it comes again !

    More chaos & new CEOs & interminable fad-driven internal restructurings & management-speak jargon. It’s the easiest way to get rid of staff the new management don’t want. Make them reapply for jobs whose job criteria they don’t match as well as the last one. And probably the easiest way to get rid of some male senior execs to make way for JAG’s lady bosses.

    • NOEL

       /  August 27, 2018

      “And probably the easiest way to get rid of some male senior execs to make way for JAG’s lady bosses.”
      And see those women who got there on merit and probably mentored the new line up leave in disgust.

  1. Q+A: Chris Hipkins on reforming the public service — Your NZ – NZ Conservative Coalition