Magazine article Public Sector

Borrowing from Our Children?

Magazine article Public Sector

Borrowing from Our Children?

Article excerpt

The focus earlier this year on actions by the Hon Judith Collins, Hon Maurice Williamson and Hon John Banks serves to remind - if indeed a reminder is required - that despite New Zealand's reputation for probity and good governance, that reputation can very easily be undermined by the actions of individuals. It is largely irrelevant whether such actions are taken with deliberate intent to gain some advantage or benefit or whether - as it seems to me to be most usually the case in New Zealand - they come about because the consequences were insufficiently thought through. We have all done things that "seemed a good idea at the time".

But over time, the cumulative effect of such actions can become corrosive and erode the social contract that binds the electorate and their elected representatives. As such, it is critically important in our system of government that failings of this kind are brought into the open and appropriately dealt with. We cannot take it for granted that the political consent environment we have now will endure and that the next generation and those beyond will continue to gain benefit from it.

When I went to school, there was little (if any) exposure to what might be called "civics". It was seemingly expected that we would all absorb the necessary understandings through osmosis. This might have been acceptable at a time when New Zealand was a smaller and more homogenous society than it is now, but I fear that as more and more people from very different backgrounds, religions, social traditions and systems of governance come to call New Zealand "home", that tacit process of imparting knowledge about the fundamental principles of our system may no longer suffice.

For my part, I believe that those principles must be considered valued taonga. We draw on them today, but we also have a responsibility to take on the role of kaitiaki. We need to understand our responsibilities to be stewards of what we have inherited so that future generations too can benefit from what those who came before us created. That is not to suggest that nothing should ever change. Of course not; times, technologies and societies move on and we must always ensure that what we have is fit for purpose. But we need to understand the difference between change that erodes fundamental principles and change that implements those principles in a way that reflects current circumstances.

That fundamental principle of stewardship finds legislative form in the Public Sector Amendment Act 2013. This is an excellent concept, but I wonder what impact it had on how the Government and the agencies through which it implements its programmes operate. …

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