Staff ImMaryanne Spurdle holds a Master of Public Policy from the University of Auckland, a BA in Communications from California State University at Fullerton, and is a World Journalism Institute Fellow. She held a variety of positions before joining Maxim Institute in 2023, writing, editing and designing material for mainstream media and non-profit organisations. One of Maryanne's early roles was at a charity that supports vulnerable and homeless adults in the north of England. That experience informed and fuelled her desire to discover and communicate the best ways that families, communities, and governments can encourage human flourishing in a complex world.ages scaling

Getting more bungle and less bang for our buck

By Maryanne Spurdle July 03, 2023

The Index of Government Effectiveness shows NZ’s rating has dropped from 1.76 in 2017—around the average since 1996—to 1.35 in 2021.

June was a fun month for news outlets, RNZ’s self-inflicted scandal aside.

How often does a Cabinet Minister resign, and for entirely preventable reasons? Reactions to Michael Wood’s brazen resistance to accountability ranged from confused to mortified.

The relatively minor story just kept on giving. Wood didn’t profit from his airport shares in the end, righteously donating profits to charity. Hindsight being 20/20, we now know he should have waited a few days before paying his penance—then it could have been applied to the other undisclosed shares that were about to come to light. As it was, the gesture added an ironic flourish to his fall from grace.

Meanwhile, we had a Race Relations Commissioner resign because of his own undeclared conflicts of interest, having already contributed to a conflict of interest for the Justice Minister.

Finally, Parliament’s Privileges Committee ruled that the Minister of Education displayed a “high degree of negligence” in failing to correct inaccurate information she gave to the House. It was the first time since 2008 that a minister had been referred to the committee.

Those stories gained far more attention than another issue brewing under the radar. (No, not the Prime Minister’s spare plane. Like I said—fun month.)

Dr Bryce Wilkinson’s report on public service bloat revealed that it gained more than 13,000 full-time equivalent workers between 2017 and 2022. That’s a 28% increase in five years.

An ineffective public service may also be a side effect of reporting to ministers who aren’t accountable themselves.

What have we got for this infusion of talent? It isn’t better roads, schools or hospitals.

It doesn’t appear to be better anything. The Index of Government Effectiveness shows NZ’s rating has dropped from 1.76 in 2017—around the average since 1996—to 1.35 in 2021.

Wilkinson’s report highlights inefficiencies, including an 85% increase in salary payments for “information specialists.” Their piece of the budget pie is now twice that of policy analysts, but journalists are reporting that access to information via departmental experts has actually become more difficult.

He also points out that even Controller and Auditor-General John Ryan has repeatedly expressed concerns over recent years about public spending being “difficult to track” and decisions lacking transparency.

An ineffective public service may also be a side effect of reporting to ministers who aren’t accountable themselves. We’ve become so jaded that after recent events people just shrug: “What did we expect from a politician?”

Even the Prime Minister has low expectations. He responded to the Michael Wood fiasco by speaking gravely about how Cabinet ministers manage conflicts of interest, saying the system “needs to change.”

Does it? Or is he introducing training wheels to help MPs who are reckless or inept from skidding off the straight and narrow?

We have to decide if we want a government that generates good clickbait or one that governs responsibly—and that decision is coming up in October.

It would be better for wayward ministers to change, or for them to make way for people with integrity. That’s partly on party leaders and partly on us. We have to decide if we want a government that generates good clickbait or one that governs responsibly—and that decision is coming up in October.

We’ll know we got it right if the election is followed by some blissfully slow news days.

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Staff ImMaryanne Spurdle holds a Master of Public Policy from the University of Auckland, a BA in Communications from California State University at Fullerton, and is a World Journalism Institute Fellow. She held a variety of positions before joining Maxim Institute in 2023, writing, editing and designing material for mainstream media and non-profit organisations. One of Maryanne's early roles was at a charity that supports vulnerable and homeless adults in the north of England. That experience informed and fuelled her desire to discover and communicate the best ways that families, communities, and governments can encourage human flourishing in a complex world.ages scaling

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