There’s another side to John Tamihere’s story which ran in last Wednesday’s New Zealand Herald under the headline “I've had it up to here with NZ’s empire of bureaucrats”.
Mr Tamihere makes some valid points, especially around the delivery of government programmes and services. I don’t disagree with some of what he says. These are issues that should be debated, and we’re up for that.
But is it necessary to put down public servants in the process?
Public servants work hard for New Zealanders every day, often in challenging circumstances. Former Minister, Steven Joyce, said in his farewell speech that in his nearly 10 years as a Cabinet Minister he’d never met a single public servant who didn’t come to work every day wanting to do a good job. I know that is the case and I think Mr Tamihere knows it too.
Mr Tamihere uses the catchy term ‘faceless bureaucrats’. Public servants are an easy target for commentators, but these are not faceless people. They are real New Zealanders, they have real families and live in real communities. Their kids go to school like everyone else’s. And no doubt they read the newspapers too.
Herald readers would also be forgiven for thinking that tens of billions of taxpayer dollars are being spent on staff working in Wellington offices.
Some clarification of the facts might be useful. Mr Tamihere’s story was accompanied by an info graphic that showed $23 Billion is spent on the 6799 staff at the Ministry of Social Development. In fact, the vast bulk of that money goes to struggling New Zealanders needing welfare support. And the $16 Billion earmarked for health is not all spent on the Ministry of Health’s 1056 staff. The money goes towards vital services for the well-being of New Zealanders, and those who deliver those services such as doctors and nurses. Education’s $11.6 Billion budget is not about the 2631 staff at the Ministry of Education – it’s about the thousands of teachers and support staff educating our children in classrooms every day.
And the $1.3 Billion for Justice? That’s largely used to run our prisons and to pay prison officers who front up every day in a very difficult work environment to keep us all safe.
Mr Tamihere’s criticism of Ministry of Social Development Chief Executive Brendan Boyle is very disappointing and unfair. Two staff were brutally murdered in the Ashburton Work and Income Office in 2014. Brendan’s personal response to that tragedy and his subsequent actions to keep his staff safe have been outstanding. He has my respect, support and admiration. Totally.
Public services and public servants help make our country work. Without them there would be no public transport, no public schools and hospitals, no police officers, no welfare safety net and no rangers protecting our environment.
Pretty much without exception, all the people I have met over the course of my career as a public servant have been focused, committed and passionate about making a difference in our country. This is what I call the spirit of service and it is alive and well in our Public Service.
I am proud of the thousands of public servants who get up every day to make a difference for New Zealand and New Zealanders. Many of them, especially those on the frontline have tough jobs which they do without expecting any thanks. They at least deserve our respect.