Adam Bennett

Adam is a political reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Calls for civil service inquiry grow

Labour's state services spokeswoman Maryan Street. Photo / APN
Labour's state services spokeswoman Maryan Street. Photo / APN

Labour's plan for a royal commission into the public service to address issues such as poor advice from officials, bullying of civil servants by ministers and the threat of "creeping corruption" has gained the backing of a former prime minister.

Labour's state services spokeswoman, Maryan Street, yesterday said Labour would initiate an inquiry because the public service had lost much of its protections against "creeping corruption" in recent years and had "lost the courage required of a neutral professional public service".

A royal commission was proposed by former Labour Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer this year.

"I think there's a great deal wrong with the public service," he told the Herald yesterday. "There really have been some developments that need to be looked at closely in a proper platform made for it."

That included the development dating back to the Helen Clark Government "of not getting full and frank advice from officials and officials not wanting to tell ministers anything except what they want to hear".

Sir Geoffrey said there was now "too much in the way of what I would call short-term thinking and not really enough long-term thinking to insulate New Zealand against the problems that are going to come up in the future which are rather ... more serious than the ones we're facing now - climate change being prime amongst them".

"It's time to put the machine into the garage, have a close look at it and give it a new warrant of fitness."

Ms Street criticised Cabinet ministers Nick Smith and Gerry Brownlee for abusing their positions and contributing to a climate where public servants felt they could less readily give free and frank advice to ministers for fear of repercussions.

State Services Minister Jonathan Coleman was dismissive of the need for a "wasteful" royal commission.

- NZ Herald

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