New Zealand Law Society - State Sector Act 1988 to be replaced

State Sector Act 1988 to be replaced

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State Services Minister Chris Hipkins says a new Public Service Bill will be introduced to Parliament later in 2019, with the legislative process running into mid-2020.

In a speech delivered at Victoria University of Wellington, Mr Hipkins said the changes will be the biggest transformation of the Public Service in 30 years.

He said the new legislation will replace the State Sector Act 1988. A draft of the bill will be circulated for "targeted consultation" before introduction to Parliament.

Mr Hipkins said the New Zealand Public Service needs to be modernised. He said the State Sector Act 1988 had made many changes and for the most part had worked well.

"But it doesn’t work well when we need to come out of our siloes and take collective responsibility when getting traction on some of our most challenging issues and opportunities requires us to work cooperatively across the Public Service and beyond. That is increasingly the case in a world that over the last 30 years has become more complex. Issues such as climate change, security and inequality are global, and the pace of technology development means rapid change is a constant. The Public Service needs to change with it if we are to keep up."

He said the Public Service changes were aimed at changing how it works, what it prioritises, who joins it and who leads it: "A public service that is more fleet-footed and can shift its focus to where it will make the most difference."

In a statement released alongside his speech, Mr Hipkins says the public service is operating in a fast changing and unpredictable context where major social, demographic and technology driven changes are reshaping the world as we know it.

“When it comes to the really big and complex challenges it doesn’t work anymore to put a single agency on the job. These reforms will make groups of chief executives jointly accountable for delivering on complex government priorities. This can’t happen under the current Act.”

He says the new Act:

  • brings genuine whole-of-government action – shifting agencies from working as single departments to working as one, unified public service, to quickly mobilise and tackle specific issues, such as reducing child poverty, mental health services, climate change and the future of work,
  • means leaders in the Public Service take collective responsibility, rather than individual agencies, to tackle the country's big challenges,
  • allows public servants to be deployed as required to work on single-issue challenges,
  • acknowledges a 'spirit of service' is fundamental to the Public Service and embed cherished public service principles to the community, political neutrality, free and frank advice and merit-based appointments.

Mr Hipkins says the shift to a single, unified public service approach will be complemented by cultural change.

"The new Act will acknowledge that a ‘spirit of service to the community’ is fundamental to the Public Service. Long-held principles and values of the Public Service would also be embedded into the new Act."


The State Services Commission has released information on the content of the new legislation and the timetable. This shows the new bill being introduced at the end of August 2019 and becoming law in mid-2020.

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