Dame Margaret Bazley, ONZ, DNZM, Hon D.Lit
(former State Services Commissioner – one of four – from 1984 to 1988)
As we celebrate 100 years of an apolitical professional Public Service in New Zealand, public servants can look back with pride on what has been achieved as they meet the challenges ahead.
In 1956 I commenced my nursing career at the then Auckland Mental Hospital, which at that time was part of the Public Service.
Twenty three years later (in 1978) I was appointed to the position of Director of Nursing in the Department of Health Head Office. This was the Chief Nurse position for New Zealand and the most senior position in the Public Service held by a woman.
Taking this position meant leaving hospitals where I had worked in a world dominated by doctors and administrators, only to enter the male bureaucracy of the Wellington Public Service. Imagine my surprise when, in middle age, I discovered that I was not equal because I was a woman. For years I was usually the only woman in a crowd of men, giving rise to many memorable experiences, such as being taken to parliamentary committees and put in the front row so that all could see that the Health Department had a woman in its senior ranks.
In 1984 the Lange Government appointed me as the first, and to this day the only, woman as a State Services Commissioner. The State Services Commission was the employer of all public servants and wage fixing authority for the wider State sector. My role as one of four Commissioners involved responsibility for industrial relations, pay fixing, personnel management, and departments in the social sector.
The State Services Commission led the government’s public sector reforms in the 1980’s, including the establishment of the State Owned Enterprises and the subsequent realignment of the Public Service departments and the implementation of the State Sector Act. The Act established Chief Executives, placed them on a five-year contract and made them accountable to their Minister for delivering outputs to an annual purchase agreement. They became employers of their own staff.
I had responsibility for leading the people aspects of the reforms and was responsible for the management of changes affecting people. We developed policies, set up a redeployment unit, an appointment unit and a social impact unit. We managed the appointments and relocation of thousands of public servants and the impacts of these changes on them, their families and communities.
Equal Employment Opportunities were also on the Government’s agenda. My role in this involved work around the establishment of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs; review and adjustment of pay for the occupational classes mainly occupied by women; establishment of eighteen Public Service crèches around the country; changes to policies impeding the advancement of women; establishment of an Equal Employment Unit; and the introduction of policies for the disabled and ethnic minorities in the Public Service.
The State Sector Act required the Public Service to have regard for the aspirations of Māori people and this work was given a highlighted focus.
In 1988 I was appointed Secretary for Transport; the first Chief Executive appointed under the State Sector Act and the first woman to head a large Public Service department.
Since then I have continued to work in the Public Service.
I enjoy working with modern public servants who are these days usually university graduates. I admire their professionalism, their honesty and integrity, and how they appreciate and protect the qualities of a world-leading apolitical service. It is interesting to observe how they adapt their practice to the requirements of the government of the day. I also take a keen interest in the services that they deliver to the people of our country and I am proud to be associated with them.
As a career public servant I observe the way our Public Service has evolved and am impressed by every part of it that I have contact with.