Departmental chiefs reshuffled in New Zealand

By on 14/06/2018
Five new chief executives have been appointed by state services commissioner Peter Hughes

New Zealand state services commissioner Peter Hughes has unveiled a series of personnel changes among the country’s top civil servants, with the direct appointment of five public service chief executives.

Under a 2013 amendment to the State Sector Act 1988, chief executives can be transferred between departments without the need for an open competition. Departmental leaders are appointed for a term of up to five years, after which they may be reappointed, replaced or transferred. And with several vacancies looming over the next year, Hughes said, he decided to make a single set of direct appointments “to remove uncertainty and maintain momentum in key roles and portfolios.”

“This approach ensures we retain strong, experienced leadership and continue to drive important transformation programmes underway across the public service. Stability of leadership is a critical component of delivering the promised changes,” he added.

All change

The most significant move is that of Andrew Kibblewhite, chief executive of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, into the top job at the Ministry of Justice. Kibblewhite will leave his post, which includes the role of lead civil service policy adviser to the prime minister, on 1 February. At the Ministry of Justice, he’ll be replacing Andrew Bridgman – who himself has been appointed secretary of defence and chief executive of the Ministry of Defence, replacing the retiring Helene Quilter.

The new chief of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet will be Brook Barrington, currently secretary of foreign affairs and trade and chief executive of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Hughes has announced that the government will hold an open competition to fill Barrington’s current job.

Meanwhile, from 1 November Ray Smith will become director general for primary industries and chief executive of the Ministry for Primary Industries from 1 November. Smith will leave his role as chief executive of the Department of Correction, which will also be advertised. He is taking over from Martyn Dunne, who is to retire.

At the Department for Internal Affairs, secretary and chief executive Colin MacDonald is to step down “to pursue new opportunities”, said Hughes, who offered his “huge respect and admiration”. He will be replaced by Paul James, who will move to the post on 1 October; James’s current role as chief executive of the Ministry for Culture and Heritage will be advertised.

Andrew Kibblewhite, leaves his role as chief executive of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, to take on the top job at the Ministry of Justice.

Knock to equality

However, the changes have been criticised by the country’s equalities commissioner, who warned in an interview with Radio New Zealand that they undermine attempts to improve gender equality in the civil service.

Jacki Blue called the appointments “musical chairs for the boys”, adding that the use of direct transfers is unusual.  “I would have thought in the modern world we live in, that they would have gone to a contestable and advertised process – and they haven’t, which is very disappointing,” she said.

In November, the country’s prime minister Jacinda Adern announced a target to achieve equal pay for women in the country’s public service jobs within four years, with the aim of making the public service a catalyst for greater parity in the wider economy.

Women hold 13 of the 30 chief executive positions in New Zealand, but their departments tended to be smaller, Blue noted.

About Catherine Early

Catherine Early is a journalist and editor specialising in government policy and regulation. She writes predominantly about environmental issues and has worked for the Environmentalist, the ENDS Report, Planning magazine and Windpower Monthly, and also written for the Guardian, the Ecologist and China Dialogue.

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