Many New Zealanders come to work as part of the New Zealand Public Service every day. They do so to make a positive difference for the individuals and communities of New Zealand. They are optimistic that public service can make this change. For them, public service matters. This is the spirit of service that needs to characterise everything the Public Service does now and into the future. This chapter is about ensuring that the Public Service and Public Servants are; imbued with a spirit of service; strongly focused on the customer and citizen; behave with humility in engagements with individuals and communities; and are motivated by a collective sense of higher purpose.

The New Zealand Public Service has a very complex set of roles to perform, from providing a huge range of services to New Zealanders, to the fair and uniform application of rules and regulations and supporting and advising the Government while supporting the constitutional role of the Executive in our democracy. Performing these roles to the highest possible standard requires a range of different approaches. For this reason there is considerable variation between departments in the way they work, are organised, and in their organisational cultures and behaviours.

However, there are some common standards that form the bedrock of the Public Service. Whatever way they are working, all departments need to maintain high standards of service and conduct, as failure in one department reflects on all and undermines the role of the New Zealand Public Service in supporting Executive Government. All departments and individual public servants must work in the way that retains New Zealanders’ trust and confidence and in the Public Service. These considerations point to the need to unify the New Zealand Public Service around some fundamental common elements. The expectations of public servants, departments and agencies, need to be clear.

There is no single legislative statement of the purpose, principles and values of the New Zealand Public Service. Such statements do exist, for example in various sections of the State Sector Act, and in the Public Service Code of Conduct issued by the State Services Commissioner. They are also implied in other legislation, like the Official Information Act 1982. However, we lack a single statement that can act as a point of identification and unity for the New Zealand Public Service.

We propose that the statute include provisions outlining the purpose, principles and values of the New Zealand Public Service. Placing these in legislation will ensure that they form an enduring foundation for the Public Service. Articulating the purpose, principles and values of the New Zealand Public Service in one place will also clarify the expectations that society places on the Public Service. Clarity of understanding will assist us to promote and embed the spirit of service across the New Zealand Public Service, supporting public servants in their efforts to work in new and innovative ways that best meet the needs of New Zealand and New Zealanders.

There will also be a need for more detailed specification of how the principles and values should be applied in practice. We propose that the Commissioner have the ability to issue guidelines and rules on the application of the principles and values to specific issues and circumstances. These will be able to be updated and extended more flexibly that the Act, and therefore will be the appropriate place for matters of detail. We envisage that the guidelines and rules issued by the Commissioner, including through the issuing of codes of conduct, will be the means of establishing formal and enforceable obligations. The principles and values in the Act will not be directly enforceable. The intention is that they will be given life through chief executive leadership, corporate documents and agency policies, and other instruments such as active promotion of codes of conduct.

The purpose, principles and values are important; they will shape the culture of New Zealand’s public service and this will impact on how it interacts with New Zealanders. We have put forward proposals which we think are broadly, but not yet exactly, right. We are keenly interested in feedback on these proposals.

The proposals in this section will help achieve all the objectives of the review; focusing Public Servants on the need for improved services, on the need for agility and innovation to that end, and on the vital importance of the integrity and professionalism of the Public Service in our democracy.
The chapter also proposes that the Act contain an expanded definition of the Public Service that would include many more of the entities involved in providing New Zealand’s public services, and which are currently defined as part of the State services rather than the Public Service.


The proposals in this document are made within the existing constitutional conventions. Ministers are accountable to Parliament (and therefore to the people) for policy implementation and for the operations of their departments. This doctrine of individual ministerial responsibility requires that Ministers have the authority to direct chief executives on the administration and operation of departments except where there are functions that a chief executive must, under statute, perform independently. Public servants (through their chief executives) serve their Minister. They are ‘neutral’ in that service in the sense that they are not required to defend or account for policy decisions.

These proposals are not intended to change or undermine existing constitutional settings and are in fact designed to bolster them. The departments of the Public Service remain part and parcel of the legal Crown and therefore are required to serve the government of the day loyally and faithfully. Moreover, we do not propose to extend the boundaries of the legal Crown so other agencies, like Crown entities, which are intended to operate at arms-length from Ministers, will continue to be governed in accordance with the Crown Entities Act and their own individual statutes. However, by placing clear statements of purpose, principles and values in one authoritative document, easily available to public servants and all New Zealanders, we will provide a stronger basis for communicating, understanding, and inculcating the fundamentals of the Public Service role in supporting Executive Government.

Purpose of the New Zealand Public Service

The State Sector Act 1988 did not set out a purpose for the New Zealand Public Service. It focused on actors within the public management system (the State Services Commissioner and chief executives), and the functions, powers and responsibilities of those actors.
This articulation of the New Zealand Public Service does not reflect the role and importance of the Public Service in New Zealand’s constitutional framework. The Public Service is a fundamental institution within the framework of New Zealand’s democratic government. It is part of Executive Government, supporting the Government to achieve its objectives according to law and being trusted to serve future governments with the same integrity and professionalism.
Reform of the State Sector Act can provide a clear articulation of the purpose of the Public Service. We do not yet have a succinct statement that adequately captures the purpose of the Public Service. We know that the Public Service has the following roles and a purpose statement will be drawn from this.

Proposed purpose of the New Zealand Public Service

The New Zealand Public Service exists to improve the intergenerational wellbeing of New Zealanders, including by –

  • Delivering results and services for citizens
    • Organise, provide and purchase services
    • Design and operate regulatory systems
    • Anticipate and manage future risks and opportunities
  • Serving the Government of the day and successive governments effectively and efficiently
    • Provide advice that supports Executive Government to make decisions
    • Implement Government policies
    • Undertake the administrative functions of Government
  • Supporting continuity of democratic government
    • Serving government with professionalism and political impartiality
    • Maintaining public trust and confidence in good government
    • Upholding the rule of law
    • Assisting the orderly transition between one government and its successor.

Principles of the New Zealand Public Service

The Public Service Act 1912 first established political neutrality and merit selection as principles for the New Zealand Public Service. The 1962 State Services Act expanded these principles by stating that the Public Service must be imbued with a spirit of service to the community. In 1988, the State Sector Act reinforced the existing principles but spread them throughout the legislation, making it difficult to read them as a coherent set of unifying principles.

The 2013 amendments to the State Sector Act affirmed stewardship and free and frank advice as principles for the Public Service (both of which had long histories as constitutional conventions), but failed to bring the various principles together in one clear statement.

Alongside the principles found in the State Sector Act, other legislation (such as the Official Information Act 1982 and the Ombudsmen Act 1975) has confirmed openness, with appropriate protections, as a key principle for Executive Government and the Public Service.

The reform of the State Sector Act provides an opportunity to set out these foundational principles in a concise statement at the front of the Act.

The proposed principles of the New Zealand Public Service are –

a) Political neutrality
b) Free and frank advice
c) Merit selection
d) Openness
e) Stewardship.

Political neutrality

Political neutrality is the cornerstone of the Public Service. It requires the Public Service to provide consistent services, including policy development, for the Government of the day, while maintaining the trust that it can continue to serve successive Governments. Political neutrality requires the Public Service to understand and operate within the current political context without becoming involved in partisan competition.
A politically neutral Public Service is central to building the trust and confidence of the public. New Zealanders should be confident that their elected Government is professionally supported to develop and implement its policy, and that services will be delivered in accordance with those policies, regardless of whether the public servants involved personally support the policy or not.

Free and frank advice

Government decision-making benefits from free and frank advice, which is based solely on the facts and merits of an issue and which may be assertively put forward even when it is not welcomed.

Free and frank advice is designed to support Ministers to achieve their objectives. Free and frank advice ensures that Ministers individually and collectively are better informed about the benefits, costs, risks and uncertainties associated with the decisions they are being asked to take.

To be effective, free and frank advice depends on a relationship of trust and confidence between a Minister and officials responsible for the advice. This does not necessarily mean agreeing. In the end, it is Ministers who decide on policy. Once a decision is made, the Public Service must implement that decision effectively.

Merit selection

Appointments to the Public Service must be based on merit, which means appointing and promoting the person who is best suited to the position. Employment in the Public Service should not be tarnished by favouritism, nepotism or political considerations.

Appointing and promoting on merit appears the most straightforward principle to implement. The reality is that merit is constrained when anyone is effectively excluded from applying for a position. Considerations of gender, disability, sexual orientation and ethnicity have affected and continue to affect many New Zealanders. The Public Service needs to address inherent barriers to merit, such as the concerns that there may be discrimination experienced by Māori and some other cultural communities, the challenges of an ageing population, and inflexible work practices. The Public Service has a leadership role to meet and demonstrate employment standards, including a diverse and inclusive workforce. The Public Service must reflect the communities it serves and welcome diversity in an inclusive manner.


Individual New Zealanders must be able to have confidence in decisions made about them, and New Zealand as a community must have confidence about the decision-making process. Openness means information is available about what decisions are made, who is making them, and how people can participate.

The principle of openness has three elements to it. It is about engaging citizens in the process of designing and delivering better outcomes and services, and partnering with citizens and communities where appropriate. It is about giving citizens and organisations the information, knowledge and ease of access to engage in the public processes of government and have their voice heard and valued should they choose to. It is about empowering people to participate in decision-making, and being receptive to that participation.

Openness does not preclude confidentiality. There is a balance to be struck, for instance, when Cabinet needs to work through to a decision or when it is a matter of protecting the information that government holds on individuals. In many areas, Parliament has legislated the need for confidentiality and public servants need to uphold these laws.


The Public Service must look ahead to the medium- and long-term to identify and meet future challenges, and to take future opportunities to strengthen New Zealand and the security and wellbeing of its people. The Public Service must be able to connect these long-term perspectives with the shorter-term imperatives of the Government of the day.

This requires a Public Service that values foresight and builds the experience and capability to think, plan and manage with the future interests of citizens at front and centre. A New Zealand Public Service genuinely delivering on the stewardship principle will be in the strongest position to provide advice and support so that the Government can plan and manage for the medium-and long-term good of the country.

Values of the New Zealand Public Service

Clear values are critical for leading culture change in organisations and systems. The values set out here are designed to be a powerful unifying influence across the Public Service. They will help achieve all the objectives of the review; focusing Public Servants on the need for improved services, on the need for agility and innovation to that end, and on the vital importance of the ethical underpinnings of a professional Public Service in our democracy.

How we articulate a series of values will drive the behaviours we can anticipate from public servants. Reform of the Act could include a very clear statement of Public Service values.

We think that the values should provide the ethical underpinning of behaviour in the Public Service. More specific, mission-based values that drive organisational performance are best owned and articulated within those organisations, rather than being described at the system level.

These system-level, ethical values could be:

a) Impartial
b) Accountable
c) Behave with integrity
d) Respectful.
e) Committed to Service


As discussed above, a key characteristic of the Public Service is political neutrality. It is important that public servants act in a way that supports the ability of the Public Service to work with the Government, regardless of the political party any particular Minister may represent and regardless of the public servant’s own views. Behaving impartially means that every public servant:

• always considers the way their actions may be perceived
• provides advice that is objective, free and frank and is based on the best available evidence and information, and
• understands the legal and institutional framework in which they operate, administers policy fairly and equitably, without bias, and in accordance with the law, to provide responsive, efficient and effective services.

By remaining politically impartial, public servants gain the confidence and willingness of future governments to work with the Public Service. Of course public servants are citizens as well and entitled to hold political views and engage in political activity in their private lives.


Public servants are given great responsibility to act on behalf of the State. Public servants may exercise significant powers that influence and affect individual New Zealanders’ lives and those of their communities. It is important that there is a clear chain of accountability to ensure that decisions are made legitimately.

Behave with integrity

Public servants assist in the stewardship of public resources, provide advice, deliver services and otherwise interact with citizens. Every public servant has a part to play in behaving with integrity to maintain New Zealanders’ confidence in the Public Service. New Zealanders expect that public servants will behave ethically, and be conscientious and competent in their work. A perceived integrity failure in one part of government can impact negatively on the opinion people hold of the Public Service as a whole.


Every public servant treats all people, whether citizens, clients or colleagues, with respect, dignity and fairness.
The Public Service must reflect the communities it serves and be inclusive of diverse people and ideas because that gives us strength.
Respect includes being able to understand the circumstances in which people live, to empathise with people and identify the impact of actions and decisions on them. Public servants need to manaaki by demonstrating a desire and ability to care for people and by working to achieve the best outcomes possible.

Committed to Service

Public servants are imbued with a spirit of service; strongly focused on the customer and citizen, behaving with humility in engagements with communities, and motivated by a collective sense of higher purpose. As noted above, a commitment to service involves commitment to improvement. The quest for positive innovation, and the courage to take risk to make improvements, are part of our commitment to service now. Also part of our commitment to service is commitment to working with communities and enabling participation in policy and service design, recognising that citizens and communities are not passive recipients of services but need to be active shapers of them.

The scope of the New Zealand Public Service

The final section of this chapter considers what classes of departments and agencies should come within the scope of the New Zealand Public Service.

Our system distinguishes between entities that operate under the direction of Ministers (departments of the Public Service), and other entities that are at ‘arms-length’ from Ministerial control. These arms-length entities take various forms, but consist mainly of Crown entities. They are outside the Public Service as defined in the State Sector Act, and constitute a wider group of State services agencies. There are other organisations which fall within the State sector, but which are not part of the State services due to their different ownership and governance arrangements.

The current situation is illustrated in the following diagram:

SSA Long form Report Diagram 1c

The term “Public Service’ as it is used in the State Sector Act, covers only a fraction of the entities that are involved in the provision of important public services to New Zealanders. From the citizen’s point of view, there is no real distinction between entities whose fundamental purpose is to serve the public, regardless of their organisational form or whether they are part of the ‘Public Service’ or the ‘State services’. From their perspective, it matters little if a function that was previously delivered by a department is now performed by a Crown entity, or that a function conferred on a Crown entity may transfer to a department. What matters to New Zealanders is that all public service entities operate with a spirit of service to the community, and do the best job they can to provide services to, and achieve outcomes for, the people of New Zealand.

For these reasons, we propose reconceptualising the Public Service. This will involve an expansion of the concept and legal definition of the Public Service. However, it is important to stress that the proposals we make here will not in any way affect the concept or definition of the legal Crown.

We propose conceptualising the Public Service:

• as a collective institution in the executive branch of government comprising a broad array of entities, and
• unified by sharing one or more common features such as: delivery of services to, for, or affecting the public; acting under a public mandate; funded primarily from public money.

It is not necessary to restrict the Public Service to Public Service departments. In the past, the Public Service has included other organisational forms. The Public Service in other Westminster-based administrations, such as in Canada and Australia, includes a broad range of organisations in addition to departments.

Impact of proposal

• The future Public Service would expand so that it includes departments, as at present, as well as a range of other bodies known as Crown entities.
• Public Service departments will continue to be part of the indivisible legal Crown.
• Crown entities will continue to exist as legally separate bodies corporate, operating under the governance of a board and at arms-length from the responsible Minister, as at present. They will not become part of the legal Crown.
• Accordingly, the proposals will expand the concept and legal definition of the Public Service, without in any way affecting the concept or definition of the legal Crown.

This change will have the effect of applying to a wider range of public entitiesthe unifying purpose, principles, and values set out in the Act, and an obligation to support and facilitate the Crown/Māori relationship.

The intent of this unifying level of commonality is to strengthen the spirit of service to the community, and to make it easier for Public Servants to work across organisational boundaries.

Proposed scope of the New Zealand Public Service

We propose that the New Zealand Public Service should comprise:

• Existing Public Service departments
• All agencies in the existing State services that are subject to a positive degree of Ministerial influence through the power to appoint and remove board members and/or the power to direct the agency to have regard to government policy.

A diagram of this proposal is set out below.

SSA Long form Report Diagram 2c

The purpose, principles, and values would apply to those Crown entities within the Public Service, However the proposal is that the legislation apply the purpose, principles, and values to the entity only (including its management and staff) but not to its Board. Current governance and decision-making responsibilities of Crown entity Boards remain unchanged by the proposal to apply principles and values. We would expect that Boards would reflect the purpose, principles, and values in their agency policies and practices together with the expectation of supporting the Crown/Māori relationship. Of the proposals in this document only one impacts on Crown entity governance. This is the proposal in chapter 5 to augment the Commissioner’s powers to issue instructions and require agencies to follow them on integrity and conduct matters. Compliance with a code of conduct issued by the Commissioner is already a statutory requirement.

Officials have considered how and to what extent the principles and values may apply to agencies of the community and voluntary sectors which are funded to provide public services but are not part of the Public Service. This issue will be considered further but we note that there are existing mechanisms which can be used. These are:

• where functions are delegated under s41 of the State Sector Act the delegatee can be required to comply with the Code of Conduct
• where external contractors are used the contractor can be bound by the Code of Conduct if the agency is so bound.

We are not proposing to include local government in the concept of the Public Service.

We wish to consider further whether Independent Crown Entities should be included within the definition of the Public Service. Inclusion of Independent Crown Entities would require an extension to the criteria to encompass agencies performing functions to, for, or on behalf of the public.

The table below provides more detail on our proposal to expand the definition of Public Service, including:

• which entities the whole Act would apply to
• which entities the purpose, principles, and values of the Public Service would apply to, and
• which entities may be outside the definition of the Public Service (but specific provisions will continue to apply as at present under the State Sector Act or another Act).