Written on 2 July 2021 by Peter Hughes

Matariki blog

Kia ora koutou katoa,

Mānawatia a Matariki – we welcome Matariki!

Matariki is the Māori name for a group of stars that are also known as the Pleiades star cluster. As of today, we can see this cluster in the north-eastern dawn sky, signalling the start of the Māori new year.

Matariki holds many meanings in Aotearoa New Zealand. The rise of Matariki is a time for family, remembering those who have passed on, reflecting on the year that has been, and preparing for the year ahead and our associated hopes and dreams.  

The transition to a new year reminds me of a beautiful whakataukī: Kia whakatōmuri te haere whakamua | I walk backwards into the future with my eyes fixed on my past. I’d like to take the chance to reflect – and to talk about what’s coming up for Te Ratonga Tūmatanui | the Public Service.

2020 was a big year for the Public Service – and not just because of COVID-19. In August Minister Hipkins introduced the Public Service Act, which is improving the way we deliver public services to New Zealanders.

Our origins date back to the 1912 Public Service Act. It put in place a Public Service that moderated the power of the State through administration that ensured impartiality, fairness and stewardship of the instruments of government.

Over the years the Public Service has evolved dramatically – and many of these changes served us well. However, by the twenty-first century, the world had changed. New Zealanders now expect a Public Service that joins up to respond to their needs and solve complex problems. They also expect to have a say in how services and policies are designed – and to be able to go online to access services and transparent information. And for the system, we had forgotten that we share values that unite us as a service.

Recognising that, Public Service reform began before the legislative change. We are aligning our leadership, finding new ways to configure around individuals and communities, and working together to share information and infrastructure. The 2020 Public Service Act codifies and accelerates that direction of travel.

Our focus in recent times has been on working together as a single system to deliver outcomes and services – now and in the future. I believe this is good public governance. And underpinned by this is a Public Service imbued with a spirit of service to the community.

We’ve seen some rapid changes in the way we work over the last year. An example of this is the way the Public Service has been able to mobilise to respond to the threats of COVID-19. We’ve seen multiple agencies working at pace to support New Zealanders in incredibly challenging circumstances. We’ve also see the establishment of our first interdepartmental executive board, where a board of Public Service chief executives have come together to oversee the control of our borders.

The Public Service sat at the centre of the Government’s response to COVID-19. No one else could do that job. I am hugely proud of our Public Service – and of every public servant who is working hard to protect and support New Zealand through these challenging times.

And we know that New Zealanders have noticed and appreciated these efforts as well. Trust and confidence in the Public Service has increased, the International Civil Service Effectiveness (InCiSE) Index ranks us second only to the United Kingdom, and we continue to maintain our presence at the top of international measures of corruption and integrity.

As mentioned, during Matariki we prepare for the year ahead and consider what we wish to achieve. The next 12 months will see us continue to join forces to support the COVID-19 vaccination roll-out and keep New Zealanders COVID-free.

We need to continue to find better ways of working together, to understand and respond to the needs of individuals, whānau and communities. This means being prepared to be more open and enabling New Zealanders to help us shape the future. And our mahi must be done while supporting the Crown in its relationship with Māori under Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

We will keep our strong focus on integrity and ethics. Our trust surveys tell us that New Zealanders value and respect the honesty that Public Servants bring to their jobs. And maintaining the trust of our people is critical if we are to achieve better outcomes for them – and for New Zealand.

And of course, throughout the year we’ll continue to reconnect the Public Service with the ethos I so often talk about – the spirit of service. This is why we do our jobs and what drives us to keep doing better.

At this special time of reflection, I’d also like to acknowledge the 40,000 public servants who took part very recently in New Zealand’s inaugural Public Service Census, Te Taunaki. Tēnā rawa atu koutou | thank you everyone! Your efforts gave us a final overall response rate of 63 percent ‒ a significant result for our Public Service. I’m looking forward to seeing the results and analysis as they start coming out later this year.

It’s been a challenging year, but we’ve made significant progress, and it’s been great to see so much hard work being done across the system to make our public sector workforce fit for the future.

I hope you enjoy Matariki and all the celebrations that go along with it this year. Please do take some time to reflect and look ahead – and if you get the chance, to look up!

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