‘The public service must reflect the communities it serves’: New Zealand’s top public servant hails diversity progress

By on 07/12/2021 | Updated on 02/02/2022

New Zealand’s top public servant Peter Hughes has welcomed the progress made in improving the diversity of the public service in the latest publication of workforce data for the country’s government

The full 2021 Workforce Data, which was published on 7 December, highlighted that the public service is becoming more diverse as it grows in response to the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the data, which was collected as part of the 2021 Public Service Census, the New Zealand public service has a majority of women both overall (61.8%) and in leadership roles (53.5%).

Both have increased slightly year on year, from 61.7% and 53.2% respectively, as the public service has increased in size in 2021. According to the data, the number of full-time equivalent employees in the Public Service increased by 3,950 (6.9%) to 61,100 in the last year, with half of the growth attributed to the New Zealand government’s response to COVID-19.

The Te Taunaki Public Service Census, which ran from May until early June this year, gathered responses from around 40,000 New Zealand public servants, also revealed that ethnic representation in the public service is increasing. Māori representation in the workforce is now 16.4%, up from 15.9% last year, while the representation of Asian people (12.5%, up from 11.6%) and Pasifika people (10.2%, up from 9.7%) also rose, as new recruits are more ethnically diverse than the existing workforce.

The gender pay gap is now the lowest ever, with the gap now down to 8.6%, and ethnic pay gaps are moving in the right direction, according to the report. The Māori pay gap has fallen from 9.3% last year to 8.3% in 2021. The Pacific pay gap has fallen from 19.5% to 17.9%. The Asian pay gap has come down from 12.8% in 2020 to 11.6%.

Hughes, the public service commissioner, highlighted that the public service “must reflect the communities it serves”, adding: “The public service has needed to grow in the last two years to implement the government’s COVID-19 response, which remains one of the biggest challenges the country has ever faced.

“The latest data shows as the public service grows, it is becoming more diverse with more women in leadership roles.”

Hughes also highlighted the data showing a 3% drop in total spending on the use of contractors and consultants in the public service, the first decrease since 2017/18. He attributed this to the investment that has been made in public service capacity over the last five years. “We wanted to right-size the workforce and part of that was a commitment to reduce our reliance on contractors and consultants, which is now starting to trend down. I don’t see the public service growing at the same rate in future.”

Public servants encouraged to engage Māori perspectives

The census also shed light on how officials are being supported by their agencies to engage and adopt Māori customs and perspectives, in line with a national treaty designed to protect Māori people and culture.

Respondents were asked about their skills in areas related to the Treaty of Waitangi, a constitutional document which guides the relationship between the Crown in New Zealand and Māori.

Overall, 69% of the public servants who responded said they understood how their agencies incorporate the treaty into responsibilities at work. Well over half of all respondents (65%) said staff at their agencies are encouraged to use te reo, an Eastern Polynesian language spoken by the Māori people. Around 58% said they already use some te reo at work, though only 6% said they could have a casual conversation in the language. Just over a quarter of Māori public servants (26%) said the same of their own language skills.

Lil Anderson, chief executive of Te Arawhiti (The Office of Māori Crown Relations), said the survey showed public servants across the board were driven to improve their language skills to engage Māori in their day-to-day work.

“They know how important this mahi [work] is to ensure the Crown is a better treaty partner and that it requires every one of us,” she said.

Publishing the information for this part of the survey, Hughes called the census results “a good start,” though added: “We have much more to do.”

“We’re working closely with Te Arawhiti and Te Puni Kōkiri [the government’s principal policy advisor on Māori wellbeing and development] to strengthen system leadership and capability across the public service in this important area,” he said.

To modernise New Zealand’s public service, the government passed the Public Service Act 2020, handing the commissioner, public service chief executives and leaders responsibility for building and maintaining engagement with Māori across government agencies. The legislation enshrined civil service principles in law, focusing on cross-departmental collaboration and on putting citizens front and centre.

Responding to the census data, secretary for Māori development, Dave Samuels, commented: “It’s promising to see data showing public servants are motivated in this area. What’s good for Māori is good for all New Zealanders.”

About Jack Aldane

Jack is a British journalist, cartoonist and podcaster. He graduated from Heythrop College London in 2009 with a BA in philosophy, before living and working in China for three years as a freelance reporter. After training in financial journalism at City University from 2013 to 2014, Jack worked at Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters before moving into editing magazines on global trade and development finance. Shortly after editing opinion writing for UnHerd, he joined the independent think tank ResPublica, where he led a media campaign to change the health and safety requirements around asbestos in UK public buildings. As host and producer of The Booking Club podcast – a conversation series featuring prominent authors and commentators at their favourite restaurants – Jack continues to engage today’s most distinguished thinkers on the biggest problems pertaining to ideology and power in the 21st century. He joined Global Government Forum as its Senior Staff Writer and Community Co-ordinator in 2021.

One Comment

  1. marky says:

    Its a strange and complicated system in NZ where Refugees, Republicans and Immigrants from China are deemed to be on the Pakeha “side” of the treaty & some people who traditionally oppose royalty, but benefit from the treaty, have been “converted” in to supporters of the UK monarch being head of state.

    There is also a real danger in NZ (and everywhere) that rather than moving towards equality for all, the country is merely switching which minority groups are discriminated against based on current classification on racial identification forms.

    There is serious inequality in NZ that needs to be fixed and NZ has horrific child safety statistics across the board.

    NZ could start at the bottom with simple things like ensuring all children in the country, no matter what colour their skin or how much their parents earn, can have free access to opticians and free glasses.

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