An overview of the changes

Factsheet 1 An overview of the changes (1.1 MB | PDF)

New Zealand’s public service has an enviable international reputation for integrity, responsiveness to government and effectiveness for New Zealanders. The most recent Kiwis Count Survey reinforces this reputation, with 2019 results showing New Zealanders have increasing trust in, and satisfaction with, their public services. The new Public Service Act 2020 (the Act) builds on the high-performance base of the public service, with the overall aim of delivering better outcomes and services for all New Zealanders.

The Act provides a modern legislative framework that enables a more adaptive, agile and collaborative public service and includes stronger recognition of the role of the public service in supporting the partnership between Māori and the Crown.

The key enablers to this are: public service culture and behaviour; an updated framework for employment; effective leadership; and a greater range of options for configuring fit-for-purpose public service organisations.

Ngā whakataunga matua | Major decisions 

The Government has repealed and replaced the State Sector Act 1988 with the new Public Service Act 2020. This new Act includes provisions across five key areas that will help the public service join up services around New Zealanders’ needs and secure public trust and confidence, so it remains well placed to serve New Zealand in the future. The five areas are: 

  • A unified public service
  • Strengthening the Crown’s relationships with Māori
  • Employment and workforce
  • Leadership
  • Organisational flexibility

Along with the system-level public service reform, there is also work being done to improve how public service agencies organise themselves in the regions.

Ngā pātai me ngā whakautu | Questions and answers

Why do we need the new Public Service Act? 

The previous State Sector Act was more than 30 years old and had been amended 13 times. Times have changed and there are areas where the public service can do better. The new Public Service Act reflects the context and expectations the public service needs to respond to, today and into the future.

How does the new Public Service Act acknowledge a post COVID-19 environment?  

The response of the New Zealand public service to the coronavirus pandemic has been widely recognised as exemplary, receiving accolades both locally and internationally. In many ways, the pandemic revealed the public service at its finest – working across boundaries to meet the needs of New Zealanders in a complex and rapidly changing environment.

The new Act acknowledges the need for more flexible and collaborative approaches to tackling the more complex challenges that lie ahead and provides the legislative environment that is required to enable this.  

What is the significance of the change in focus from State Sector Act to the Public Service Act?  

The naming of the Act itself also signals a shift in focus, placing a clear emphasis on the benefit to New Zealand’s individuals, organisations and communities as the key focus and motivation for all public service agencies and activities.

How will New Zealanders benefit from the changes in the new legislation? 

The public service works for the Government that New Zealanders elect and New Zealanders depend on the public service for a wide range of services. A public service that is more adaptive, agile and collaborative can more effectively meet the needs of New Zealanders and the communities it serves.

Was there an appetite for change? 

Yes. Consultation feedback showed strong support for the overall direction of the reforms. The new Act builds on the already strong reputation of the public service for delivering on New Zealanders’ needs.

When will the changes take place? 

Some changes have already come into effect, but many of the provisions in the Act are for tools and instruments that are designed to enable the public service to meet both current and future needs. These changes will come into effect over time as the need arises.

He ratonga tūmatanui e kotahi ana | A unified public service

Factsheet 2 A unified Public Service (1.1 MB | PDF)

A unified public service that acts as one team, with a spirit of service to the community, will lead to more joined-up, effective services and improved wellbeing outcomes for all New Zealanders.

Ngā whakataungamatua | Major decisions

The new Public Service Act 2020 (the Act):

  • helps to create a unified public service with a common purpose, upholding foundational principles and embodying our core values;
  • makes appropriate chief executives and boards of Crown agents responsible for upholding the principles;
  • acknowledges a spirit of service as fundamental to the public service and
  • reaffirms the term ‘the public service’ to include Crown agents (for the above purposes).

Ka pēheamō ngā kaimahi tūmatanui | What it means for public servants

The Act affirms and clarifies the purpose and foundational principles and values for all public servants. It highlights acting with a spirit of service to the community as the fundamental characteristic of the public service and requires public service leaders and boards to nurture the spirit of service that their staff bring to their work.

The Act captures why the public service exists and how it fits into New Zealand’s system of government, as well as enshrining the five foundational public service principles and expected behaviours that support the integrity of the public service.

Strengthening the shared identity of public servants is intended to unite them in their goal of serving New Zealanders, regardless of which agency they work in. This will help to drive the cultural shift to build a unified public service that can quickly mobilise across the sector to tackle specific issues and deliver better outcomes for New Zealanders.

The unified public service provisions of the Act extend to Crown agents, many of which provide core public services in areas like health, education, transport and housing. They give effect to government policy and often need to work closely with other public service agencies.

Ngā pātai me ngā whakautu | Questions and answers

What is the purpose of the public service?

The Act confirms the purpose of the public service:

“The public service supports constitutional and democratic government, enables both the current Government and successive governments to develop and implement their policies, delivers high-quality and efficient public services, supports the Government to pursue the long-term public interest, facilitates active citizenship, and acts in accordance with the law.”

- Section 11, Public Service Act 2020.

What are the five public service principles?

The five principles are: politically neutral, free and frank advice to Ministers, merit-based appointments, open government and stewardship.

Although these principles have been in operation across the public service for some time, they have now been more explicitly formalised through the Act.

What are the values?

The five values are: impartial, accountable, trustworthy, respectful, and responsive.

What is the difference between principles and values?

The principles are fundamental features of the way in which the public service operates.The values describe the necessary behaviours of public servants to maintain the integrity of the public service.

Why put the purpose, principles and values for the public service into law?

It preserves them as part of our legislative framework and underscores how important they are. It also gives a much stronger and clearer signal to both the public and those working within the public service regarding the behaviours that are expected of all public servants and public service agencies.

Who is responsible for upholding the principles?

Public service chief executives and boards of Crown agents are responsible for ensuring the principles are upheld in their agencies.

What happens if someone breaches a value?

The public service values are given effect through minimum standards set by the Public Service Commissioner. Minimum standards may be binding on public servants as terms of their employment. Behaviours inconsistent with minimum standards would be addressed through employment management processes within an agency.

Why are Crown agents now included in the public service?

Of the Crown entities, Crown agents are closest to government. They give effect to government policy, include core public-facing service delivery, and often need to work closely with public service departments to deliver public services. It makes sense for all Crown agents and public service agencies to be unified under a common purpose and common principles and values.

What does this mean for Crown agents?

Under the new Act, Crown agents are now bound by the same purpose, principles and values as public service departments and other public service agencies. Boards of Crown agents are responsible for ensuring that the entities they govern uphold the public service principles.

Which organisations are in the Crown agents group?

There are 46. They include all 20 district health boards, Accident Compensation Corporation, Kāinga Ora, Waka Kotahi New Zealand Transport Agency, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, Tertiary Education Commission, and PHARMAC.

Have the legal status or decision-making powers of Crown agents changed?

No. The provisions in the new Act are about strengthening the shared identity and underlying behavioural foundations of all public servants – regardless of where they work. It’s aimed at bringing them closer together in the goal of serving New Zealanders, without fundamentally changing the governance of individual agencies. Their status remains the same under the Crown Entities Act.

Te whakapakari i te honongai waenga i te Māori me te Karauna | Strengthening the Māori Crown relationship

Factsheet 3 Strengthening the Māori Crown Relationship (990 KB | PDF)

Ngā whakataunga matua | Major decisions

The Government is committed to improving services and outcomes for Māori and strengthening the Crown’s relationships with Māori.

The Public Service Act 2020 (the Act) section 14 explicitly recognises the role of the public service to support the Crown in its relationships with Māori under Te Tiriti o Waitangi/the Treaty of Waitangi.

To this end, the new Act includes provisions that put explicit responsibilities on:

  • Public service leaders for developing and maintaining the capability of the Public Service to engage with Māori and to understand Māori perspectives.
  • The Public Service Commissioner, when developing and implementing the newly required leadership strategy, to recognise the aims, aspirations and employment requirements of Māori, and the need for greater involvement of Māori in the public service.

The new Act also carries over the current requirements on public service employers to operate an employment policy that recognises the aims, aspirations and employment requirements of Māori, and the need for greater involvement of Māori in the Public Service.

The Commissioner and chief executives are accountable to their Minister for upholding their responsibilities to support the Crown's relationships with Māori.

Ka pēhea mō ngā kaimahi tūmatanui | What it means for public servants

The reforms aim to unify the Public Service to fulfil its stewardship responsibility to support the Crown's relationships with Māori. In practice this will mean:

  • Improving the Public Service’s relationships with Māori by creating and continuing collaborative approaches that are mutually beneficial.
  • Greater understanding of te ao Māori woven into the work and ethos of public service, including:
    • Te ao Māori concepts, knowledge, values and perspectives
    • Te reo Māori (Māori language)
    • Tikanga Māori (protocols and customs)
    • Te Tiriti o Waitangi/the Treaty of Waitangi and understanding how it applies day-to-day
  • Exercise of individual and collective responsibility for a culturally competent public service that delivers with and for Māori and is committed to supporting Māori leadership and decision-making roles in the Public Service.

Ngā pātai me ngā whakautu | Questions and answers

What changes will public servants need to make in their routine work because of the reference in the Act to Te Tiriti o Waitangi/the Treaty of Waitangi?

Guidance will be issued to agencies on what it means to support and strengthen the relationships between Māori and the Crown under Te Tiriti/the Treaty. Te Arawhiti (the Office for Māori Crown Relations) has issued guidance to public servants on how they should consider Tiriti/Treaty implications in policy development and implementation, alongside a range of guidance, tools and training for agencies on how engagement with Māori should be approached.

Does this require a big shift in thinking and practice for the Public Service?

There are already examples of good practice across the public service – however, we can do a lot more to strengthen the relationships between Māori and the Crown and ultimately improve outcomes for Māori. The Act supports the intent of other legislative documents that require the public sector to recognise the Māori Crown relationships.

How will public servants be supported to make these changes?

Public service chief executives will determine what their agency needs and support each other through the Public Service Leadership Team to implement these practices. Te Kawa Mataaho Public Service Commission will provide leadership and advice to support a wider lift in capability across the system.

Te Arawhiti is responsible for supporting Māori Crown relationships, building public sector capability to engage with Māori, ensuring Crown agencies meet their Te Tiriti o Waitangi/Treaty of Waitangi settlement commitments and administering the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Act 2011.

Te Puni Kōkiri is the principal policy advisor to Government on Māori wellbeing and development. Their role includes building Māori capability and capacity, monitoring the effectiveness of public services for Māori, and leading policy advice on specific issues of importance to Māori.

Who is responsible for making sure public servants can deliver these expectations?

The Public Service Commissioner and public service chief executives will be responsible to their Minister for delivering on these expectations.

Do the new responsibilities apply to Crown agents and the boards of the Crown agents?

No. However, many Crown agents already recognise special relationships with Māori. For example, district health boards have specific obligations and responsibilities set out in their governing legislation.

How does this fit with the Maihi Karauna work already underway?

Maihi Karauna is the Crown’s Māori Language Revitalisation Strategy that outlines a vision for the future of te reo Māori in New Zealand. Maihi Karauna is for all New Zealanders. The strategy puts specific emphasis on three particular groups that will benefit from revitalising te reo Māori, one of which is the public service.

The public service reforms to strengthen and enhance Māori Crown relationships complement the work of Maihi Karauna by extending beyond language revitalisation and broadly setting out both system and agency baseline capability expectations.

Te whai mahi me te ohu mahi | Employment and workforce

Factsheet 4 Employment and Workforce (1.3 MB | PDF)

The employment and workforce provisions of the Public Service Act 2020 (the Act) are designed to help develop the public service workforce of the future. The changes also support the aim of building a unified public service that acts as one team, with a spirit of service to the community, resulting in more joined-up, effective services and improved wellbeing outcomes for all New Zealanders.

Ngā whakataunga matua | Major decisions

Provisions in the Act include:

  • Employees being appointed to the public service at the same time as being employed by departmental chief executives, or by the board in the case of an interdepartmental venture.
  • Broadening the Public Service Commissioner’s delegation powers for collective agreement negotiations.
  • Adding pay equity claims as one of the things the Commissioner is responsible for negotiating in the public service.
  • Setting out government expectations in public service-wide workforce policy statements covering, for example, pay equity, diversity, development, and the portability of service-related entitlements.
  • Improving workforce diversity by explicitly recognising its value and requiring chief executives and boards of interdepartmental ventures to foster workplaces that are inclusive of all.
  • In the future, making annual leave entitlements portable across the public service to aid career mobility across departments.

Ka pēhea mō ngā kaimahi tūmatanui | What it means for public servants

These changes are about making the public service a more attractive and inclusive place to work, by:

  • fostering a common shared identity for public servants
  • recognising the importance of diversity, and inclusive workplaces
  • supporting the sector to address pay equity and other cross-sector workforce issues
  • enabling cross-public service negotiation of terms and conditions of employment and
  • making career mobility between departments easier through portability of annual leave.

Ngā pātai me ngā whakautu | Questions and answers

What does being appointed to the public service mean?

Although public servants continue to be employed in their departments under the new Act, they are also considered to be ‘appointed to the public service’ by their chief executive (or by the board in the case of people employed by an interdepartmental venture). The intent is to encourage public servants to identify not just as employees of their agency but as part of a much bigger unified public service.

How does being appointed to the public service affect someone’s employment in individual agencies?

It doesn’t affect any individual employment processes. The agency chief executive (or board of an interdepartmental venture) still employs individual staff and continues to have all the obligations, rights, and powers that go with being the employer.

Are there any changes to rights in negotiations?

No. The Employment Relations Act 2000 sets out the rights of employers, unions, and employees to negotiate on employment matters. The new Public Service Act does not change these rights.

Will there be common terms and conditions across the public service?

The Public Service Act enables common terms and conditions of employment to be negotiated where all parties agree this is a good idea.

Will there be changes to leave provisions?

The Public Service Act includes a change to ensure that accumulated statutory leave – including annual leave – can transfer with public servants when they move from one department to another.

These provisions will come into force after any changes to the Holidays Act 2003.

Would redundancy entitlements change?

No. Redundancy options and entitlements stay the same as they are now.

Can public servants be compulsorily moved to a new job in a different department?

No. Public servants continue to be employed in their specific departments and any move to a new job requires their agreement.

Why are the Public Service Commissioner’s responsibilities broadened to include pay equity?

The intent of the pay equity provisions is to provide a statutory mandate for the Commissioner to monitor and promote the orderly and efficient handling of pay equity claims in the public service, consistent with the Reconvened/Joint Working Group Pay Equity Principles. This oversight role will also help the Government to plan for the impact of any pay equity settlements in the public service.

What impact does the pay equity provision have?

The public service is already responding to the Government’s commitment to achieve pay equity, with a number of pay equity claims currently being progressed by applying the Pay Equity Principles ahead of amendments to the Equal Pay Act 1972.

The Public Service Act’s provisions add legislative strength to these efforts by making the Public Service Commissioner responsible for pay equity claims in the public service as if the Commissioner were the employer. The Commissioner can delegate their functions relating to pay equity and may set conditions on the delegations.

What changes need to be made to agency workplaces because of the diversity and inclusion provisions under the new Act?

Chief executives and boards of interdepartmental ventures are expected to build an inclusive workplace culture that attracts and promotes diversity. The Act provides a legislative backing for this work. This includes the removal of any barriers that prevent people from having fair and equal access to employment and career progression opportunities.

Diverse workforce and inclusive practices help the public service to treat all employees fairly and to be responsive and engage more effectively with the communities it serves. This in turn enables the public service to deliver more innovative and effective programmes that have a meaningful impact on social, economic and wellbeing outcomes for New Zealanders.

Under the new Act, do public servants have individual or standardised employment agreements?

This will be negotiated between employers and employees in each case, with agreement from both parties as to the most appropriate approach.

Te kaiaratakinga o te ratonga tūmatanui | Leadership of the public service

Factsheet 5 Leadership of the Public Service (623 KB | PDF)

Strong, system-focused public service leadership is needed to improve outcomes for all New Zealanders. System-focused leadership also positions the New Zealand public service for the future, helping reaffirm and preserve the key elements that have helped win our strong international reputation for integrity, effectiveness and responsiveness.

Ngā whakataunga matua | Major decisions

The Public Service Act 2020 (the Act) supports system-focused leadership through:

  • Establishing a Public Service Leadership Team (PSLT) of chief executives. This will work as an executive team to support a unified public service and will be led by the Public Service Commissioner.
  • Requiring the Commissioner to develop a leadership strategy that enables and supports the development of senior leaders to lead and move across boundaries and take a broad range of experience and skills into chief executive roles in the future.
  • Allowing for the creation of functional chief executives who, along with chief executives of departments, can be designated as system leaders, with responsibility for leading and co-ordinating work in a particular area across the State services.

Ka pēheamō ngā kaimahi tūmatanui | What it means for public servants

Under the Act, the public service shifts from a primary focus on agency leadership to an additional strong focus on system leadership. This is about building the right culture and behaviour first, rather than relying on rigid systems and processes.

Chief executives have already started to lead together for the system. Under the Act, this group becomes formalised as the new Public Service Leadership Team, which will help public servants build on this collective way of working.

Under the Act, chief executives can be mandated as ‘system leaders’, giving them the power to create standards (with Ministerial agreement) that have mandatory effect across the public service and will help public servants with specific functions. This formalises the existing model of ‘functional leads’ to provide leadership on system-level issues such as digital, property, and health and safety.

The leadership strategy will support the development of the skills and experience needed for the future and help senior leaders to more easily address system-wide issues beyond agency boundaries. This will also create a broader range of public service leadership opportunities. The Act includes mechanisms to enable senior leaders to identify development opportunities and/or move between roles, while upholding the principle of merit-based appointment.

Ngā pātai me ngā whakautu | Questions and answers

Does the new legislation establish a senior leaders’ service?

No. The legislation does not set out a structure or process change for the employment of senior leaders. Instead, the leadership strategy will be developed and implemented in consultation with chief executives and senior leaders. This will further develop the role of the Public Service Leaders Group.

What will the leadership strategy cover?

All public service chief executives will assist in the development of the strategy. It will address both the development of senior leadership and management capability in the public service.

Under the Act, the Commissioner may issue guidance to help implement the leadership strategy. Chief executives and boards that are employers of staff in public service agencies will be required to have regard to the strategy in making appointments and deploying leaders.

Do senior leaders have a say on when they move across the system into another role?

Yes. The agreement of the individual concerned and of the relevant chief executives is required before any moves can be confirmed.

How is Te Kawa Mataaho Public Service Commission structured?

Te Kawa Mataaho Public Service Commission is led by the Public Service Commissioner and two statutory Deputy Public Service Commissioners. The previous legislation only provided for one statutory deputy.

What’s the purpose of the Public Service Leadership Team?

The Public Service Leadership Team (PSLT) is building on the progress made towards a more collective approach to system issues. The PSLT brings together public service chief executives and other senior leaders to focus on the interests of the whole system, rather than those of a single agency. Providing for a PSLT in legislation embeds this collective way of working for the future and ensures it remains sustainable.

If chief executives are required to work collectively, how will this affect how they lead their agencies?

Agency chief executives still have individual responsibilities and will continue to focus on the results they are expected to deliver as agency leaders. Alongside those responsibilities, the PSLT is about chief executives working together as a team to improve how the system operates.

Why do we need system leaders?

System leaders support improved capability and inter-operability across the public service in a way that benefits all agencies. For example, better back-office integration and more integrated services for New Zealanders are only possible through system leadership that focuses on improvements to digital and data systems across the public service.

A system-wide leadership approach enables the public service to meet its system stewardship responsibilities on behalf of the individuals, communities and organisations across New Zealand.

Who are functional chief executives responsible to?

They are responsible to the appropriate Minister for their functions. Like chief executives of departments, they are appointed and employed by the Public Service Commissioner.

How does the Public Service Act apply to Crown agent chief executives?

Crown agent chief executives may be invited by the Public Service Commissioner to join the Public Service Leadership Team. Similarly, the Commissioner may promote the leadership strategy to the State services (which includes Crown agents) and invite them to assist in the development and implementation of the leadership strategy.

Crown agent chief executives cannot be made system leaders under the legislation.

Ngā whakahaere o te ratonga tūmatanui | Organisations of the public service 

Factsheet 6 Organisations of the Public Service (1.2 MB | PDF)

The public service needs to be able to organise flexibly around the needs of New Zealanders without being unnecessarily constrained by administrative boundaries.

Ngā whakataunga matua | Major decisions

Under the Public Service Act 2020 (the Act), the new system design provisions allow for:

  • A more flexible departmental agency model.
  • Two different types of public service joint ventures – interdepartmental ventures and joint operational arrangements – that support joined-up, agile service delivery and joint resource management, including of assets and staff.
  • Interdepartmental executive boards that support joined-up planning and budgeting and/or policy alignment on complex cross-cutting issues.

Ka pēhea mō ngā kaimahi tūmatanui | What it means for public servants

Under the Act, there are more formalised and flexible options for organisational arrangements to support public service agencies taking a truly collaborative, joined-up approach to tackling some of the big challenges facing the country today.

This means that:

  • Some of the most successful collaborations are further strengthened. 
  • The ability to be truly collaborative is supported and encouraged, rather than held back or obstructed by system settings.

Collaborating agencies are now able to align strategy and planning activities in overlapping policy areas. This makes it possible to harness the capabilities of individual agencies to collectively plan for and respond to complex cross-agency problems or priorities.

Ngā pātai me ngā whakautu | Questions and answers

Why is there a need to change the way the public service organises itself? 

The current organisation of our public service into agencies that operate as separate businesses works well for many tasks. However, it has struggled to respond effectively to complex issues that cross agency boundaries.

What can an interdepartmental venture or executive board do that couldn’t be done before?

Until now, cross-agency working arrangements have been voluntary and it was often difficult to fund and sustain them over time. Interdepartmental ventures and executive boards provide formal structures to support collaborative working. For example, they allow boards of chief executives to administer funding and employ public servants collectively, instead of one chief executive having to do so on behalf of a group.

What is the difference between an interdepartmental venture and an interdepartmental executive board?

An interdepartmental venture brings together the delivery of services from across a small number of agencies. An interdepartmental executive board provides collective strategic policy advice to Ministers for cross-agency issues.

Who appoints the board members of interdepartmental ventures?

The agencies involved are determined by Cabinet when the venture is established. Interdepartmental venture boards are automatically comprised of the chief executives of the agencies involved in the venture.

Who decides which chief executives govern interdepartmental executive boards?

Cabinet determines which agencies are included in the remit of the board. The Public Service Commissioner – as the employer of Public Service chief executives – then appoints chief executives from within this remit as board members, after consulting with Ministers.

Who employs the staff in the interdepartmental executive boards and interdepartmental ventures?

The board of an interdepartmental venture can employ staff directly, in the same way the board of a Crown entity does. An interdepartmental executive board can act as the employer of staff, for most purposes, in a similar arrangement to the departmental agency model.

What are the differences between the new flexible departmental agency model, and the old one?

The new model provides additional flexibility across three key structural decisions: 

  • Whether the departmental agency operates within the strategic framework of its host department or sets its own strategic framework. 
  • Whether the departmental agency will receive corporate service support from its host department. 
  • Whether the departmental agency holds control and responsibility for the financial management of assets. 

The Public Service Act also clarifies the responsibility of the departmental agency chief executive for the relationship with individual departmental agency employees, and how relevant legislation such as the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 and the Privacy Act 2020 apply to departmental agencies.

Last modified: