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Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman, Minister of State Services

There is no doubt that our Public Service has come a long way since the Commission was first established in 1913. The first Public Service Commissioner (as the position was referred to then) Donald Robertson, was appointed in 1913.

He didn’t work alone in that role – at that time there were also two assistant commissioners. The first Minister of State Services, Keith Holyoake, was not appointed until 1963 and now I am lucky number 13.

Since the early 1900’s huge strides have been made through two world wars; a major depression; floods; earthquakes; successive governments and Ministers, some 16 Commissioners (under various titles, including joint tenure), and the usual hefty work requirements involved in working through major programmes of significant change and reform. A key event during this time included the appointment of New Zealand’s first woman State Services Commissioner in 1984, Dame Margaret Bazley.

While now is a good time to reflect on where we have come over the last 100 years, it is also an opportunity for us to look at what is next and where we are headed.

As the current Minister for State Services, I am excited about being part of the most significant change programme for our State sector in a generation. It is not only about maintaining and improving services during a time when we all have to be particularly mindful of every dollar that we spend. It is also about making sure we are providing a  public sector that is working to make things happen – a time of action – to deliver the things that matter most to New Zealanders and to support the demands of our country in a challenging global environment.

The global financial crisis and the great recession have meant real challenges for economic management and the Public Service. We need to think about and plan how we will provide public services that are both relevant and in line with the needs of a modern public. While, at the same time, getting back to surplus and ensuring our government debt stays low. A difference that has not gone unnoticed by other countries.

Being relevant to New Zealanders is about focusing on the things that matter most to all of us: boosting skills and employment; reducing crime; supporting our vulnerable children and improving the way people interact with government. We are doing this by setting tough targets with clear results that will focus and challenge our public servants. We are already getting traction towards achieving some of the targets that agencies have set for these result areas.

These are complex problems that cut across Ministerial portfolios and agency boundaries. So it requires us working in different ways. We are doing this by providing the advice and tools to support a more modern leadership culture in our Public Service, and of course the change in legislation that will help to manage that.

We are also working with others outside the public sector and outside New Zealand, more and more.

There are a great many opportunities to learn from and contribute to the experience of others – such as the United Kingdom experience in public sector reforms and the innovations that have come out of Christchurch as a result of the Canterbury earthquakes. By working more closely together across agencies, businesses, government, non-government, communities, countries and cultures we are in a better position to share the wealth of skill and expertise that will ensure our public sector delivers innovative services and meaningful results to New Zealanders.

The local and global financial constraints we face now will not be going away any time soon. Making sure we have the kind of Public Service that can not only deliver core requirements in these tough financial times, but develop and transform itself to respond to challenges and deliver better public services, is not only desirable but essential. We are small enough to think differently, challenge ourselves and act in ways that can make a big difference for us all.

Our State Services Commission is playing a critical role in making sure that happens – not as a ‘big brother’ who is forever on your case and giving you a hard time, but more as someone you can look up to for guidance and support. An organisation that is working with others to lead a State sector that not only New Zealanders are proud of, but is admired by others around the world.

This is a timely moment to acknowledge the reputation we enjoy overseas for consistently topping the International Transparency rankings. We are not perfect, but as kiwis we can be very proud about the lack of corruption in our system – something we are keen to preserve.

We are a nation of doers and inventors with a unique perspective on life. It has never been good enough for us to simply follow along and make the best of things. Looking at what we as a nation and a public sector have achieved so far, it is evident that leading the way and forging our own possibilities is what we are about. All of that makes me excited about the opportunities for ‘what is next’.

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