15 March 2023
  • Mai i te Kaikōmihana o Te Kawa Mataaho | Foreword by Peter Hughes, Public Service Commissioner

    It is my privilege to release He Ārahitanga Pōtitanga Whānui | General Election Guidance 2023. 

    Although the guidance has been updated, the mission of the public sector remains the same – to serve the government of the day, and all New Zealanders, in a way that upholds their trust and confidence. 

    Later this year, our country will go to the polls. General elections are a significant part of our democratic form of government. It is important to publish this guidance to support the public sector to do the right thing during the election period. 

    I want to briefly highlight one of the things this guidance makes clear: public servants have the same rights to freedom of expression and political activity in their private lives as other New Zealanders. 

    The Public Service Act 2020 explicitly acknowledges that public servants have all the rights and freedoms affirmed in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990. Along with these rights and freedoms, the Act enshrines the principle of political neutrality, along with free and frank advice, open government, merit-based appointment and stewardship. It aims to recognise and preserve these principles for the public sector of today and for future generations. 

    I encourage everyone working in the public sector to take the time to read this guidance and think about how it might apply to them. We all have a role to play to ensure the integrity of our electoral process and the operation of government. 

    It is important that, during the election period, the public sector continues to support the elected government with robust and impartial advice, sound business decision-making and effective delivery of services. 

He Ārahitanga Pōtitanga Whānui | General Election Guidance 2023 covers what it means to work in the public sector before, during, and after an election.

General elections are a significant part of our democratic form of government. This guidance supports the public sector to maintain political neutrality and do the right thing during the election period.

It recognises that public servants[1] will be exercising their political rights and freedoms as voters in the election and have personal political interests.

This guidance will help public servants navigate the heightened sensitivity during an election year. This guidance is not limited to the official pre-election period and should be applied as a matter of good practice from the date it is issued.

This guidance has been refreshed and updated to reflect the current public sector environment. It identifies common principles and obligations that will help people who work in the public sector during the lead-up to, and immediately after, the 2023 general election. There is more information in areas such as social media and advertising. It also includes new case studies.

There is information on the three phases of the election cycle: the pre-election period (the three months before the election), election day, and the post-election period (the period after the election until the appointment of a new government). It looks at how the phases affect government business and government processes; in particular, government advertising and the release of government information.

There is also information on where to get further help on election-related issues and guidance on election preparation for agencies.

Who this guidance is for

This guidance applies to most public sector agencies and their staff. The Public Service Commissioner has issued this guidance under section 19 of the Public Service Act 2020 to provide advice and guidance to the public sector on political neutrality and integrity and conduct during the election period.

In general, this guidance applies to the following agencies (referred to as ‘the public sector’ in this Guidance):

  • Public Service departments, departmental agencies, interdepartmental executive boards and interdepartmental ventures
  • Parliamentary Counsel Office
  • Crown entities (including Te Whatu Ora — Health New Zealand and school boards but excluding Crown Research Institutes and their subsidiaries and tertiary education institutions)
  • Public Finance Act 1989 Schedule 4A companies
  • Te Aka Whai Ora — Māori Health Authority

Some public sector agencies do not come within the Public Service Commissioner’s guidance mandate. These agencies include: [2] 

  • New Zealand Defence Force
  • New Zealand Police
  • Crown Research Institutes and their subsidiaries
  • Public Finance Act 1989 Schedule 4 organisations
  • Public Finance Act 1989 Schedule 5 Mixed ownership model companies
  • State-owned enterprises
  • Tertiary education institutions such as universities

However, anyone can use this guidance to know more about political neutrality, and integrity and conduct obligations, that are generally appropriate for public servants.

This general election guidance does not apply to other types of elections, such as local council elections. There are different legislative requirements for regional, city and district council, community board, local board and licensing trust elections.

Read Chapter 3 of the Cabinet Manual for further information on the integrity and conduct obligations of public servants. 

Read the Electoral Commission’s rules that apply to election advertising 

For further information about the codes and standards that apply to election programmes and advertising, see the following websites: Advertising Standards Authority, Broadcasting Standards Authority and New Zealand Media Council. 

[1] For the purpose of this guidance, ‘public servant’ means any employee or contractor for the agencies listed in the section: Who this guidance is for 

[2] This section was amended on 15 March to improve clarity