12 October 2023

From Whanganui to Tararua, Darlene Rastrick’s region is widespread and diverse.

“We’re seeing the benefits of people valuing our role and our purpose, and enabling the system to work for our communities.”

That’s how Darlene Rastrick (Te Āti Haunui a Pāpārangi me Ngati Tane, Ngati Varu, me Ngati Manaune ki Mangaia o ngā Kuki Airani ngā iwi) sums up her job as Regional Public Service Commissioner.

“If you keep the communities at the centre of everything, and you see the results that they can get, then it absolutely makes it worth it.

“Our mandate is to bring the Public Service and the community together instead of working in silos, as has happened in the past.”

Based in Palmerston North, Darlene is Regional Public Service Commissioner (RPSC) for Manawatu-Whanganui. She is one of 12 RPSCs working across 15 regions on behalf of the Public Service. 

Employed by individual government departments, RPSCs help join-up Public Service efforts with stakeholders in the community to define priorities and improve services and outcomes. They can also escalate issues to senior Public Service decision makers where necessary. 

The approach acknowledges that iwi and other Māori groups and regional stakeholders (including Pasifika, local government, business, ethnic and community groups) know the realities of their communities and hold valuable insights into what can work to improve their wellbeing.   

In Darlene’s area of responsibility, those communities are widespread and diverse.

The area covers Horowhenua and Whanganui on the West Coast, up to Ruapehu and the Rangitikei district, Palmerston North and Manawatū, then across the Tararua Range to the East Coast via the Tararua district.

Since starting in the role in February, it’s Tararua which has been a key focus of Darlene’s attention.

Cyclone Gabrielle ripped through parts of the country in February, causing widespread damage and 11 deaths. In Tararua there was extensive damage to infrastructure in rural and coastal areas, with numerous roads wiped out or left impassable, leaving communities isolated.

Since then, Darlene has supported the local response through the Regional Recovery Team to help reconnect rural and coastal communities with the support they need.

Darlene meeting the Rural Support Trust and local farmers following Cyclone Gabrielle.

“They are proud, self-sufficient communities trying to cope and get on with it themselves,” says Darlene.

“And because they are quite small and isolated some of the communities felt a bit forgotten, but the flipside is they’ve been able to move quickly and do things a lot faster than some of the bigger centres.”

Darlene says her role has been about enabling and supporting the organisations already operating in the community.

This has meant supporting the local council and mayor and iwi. She has also teamed up with fellow RPSC Roy Sye who supports Wairarapa’s response, to make sure neighbouring areas get what they need.

She says the Rural Support Trust has been at the centre of the recovery – a good example of an organisation with established connections – “they can sit down with people and then bring info back to the recovery team”.

“It’s about working with the agencies and people who the communities already know and trust.”

While there is still much to do in Tararua, it doesn’t mean the work stops elsewhere.

Darlene’s office supports multiple ongoing projects across the region, often centred on the broad priorities of rangatahi, housing, health, and economic development.

There is also work helping to coordinate and implement the Oranga Tamariki action plan, which involves agencies working together to improve the lives of children, young people and families with the greatest needs.

With such projects, Darlene says it’s her unique position as RPSC that allows her to “look right across the system”.

“We get to ask people to collaborate in areas of collective action, and then mobilise to get the resources to the right places.”