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A few days ago, a friend drew my attention to what has been an extraordinary increase in public service staff numbers over the last three years.

And by the public service I don’t mean the hundreds of thousands of people employed in the broader public sector – teachers, nurses, police officers, those serving in the armed forces; those employed by the majority-owned government corporations like Genesis, Meridian, Mercury or Air New Zealand; entities like the Reserve Bank, New Zealand Post, Kiwirail, the Crown Research Institutes and so on – I mean just those who are literally employed at the core of the public service. These are people employed in government departments such as the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Social Development, Inland Revenue, and so on.

On 30 June 2017, close to the end of the nine years of the Key-English Government, people employed in the public service numbered 47,252. Just three years later, by which time the total New Zealand labour force had increased by 6.7%, numbers in the public service had increased to 57,149, an increase of 20.9%, more than three times the increase in the total labour force.

And remember that this was not as a result of hiring more teachers, or nurses, or police officers – those people are not regarded as part of the core public service. This was the direct result of hiring lots more bureaucrats.

Many departments well exceeded that 20.9% average increase – such as

• Land Information New Zealand, 25.5%

• Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 30.7%

• Ministry of Education, 32.4% (remember this is not more teachers or lecturers)

• Ministry of Defence, 35.3%

• Ministry of Primary Industries, 36.7%

• Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, 38.9%

• Oranga Tamariki, 40.7%

• Ministry of Transport, 40.8% (not including NZTA)

• Ministry for the Environment, 41.0%

• Public Service Commission, 42.6%

• Ministry for Women, 45.8%

• Ministry for Maori Development including the Office for Maori Crown Relations, 69.8%

• Ministry for Pacific Peoples, 81.1%

All this might be excused if the Government was really delivering – less child poverty, more affordable housing, a vaccination programme up with the best of other developed countries, reduced congestion in Auckland, less violent crime. But on all those measures and more, there has been absolutely no progress, and indeed on many measures of well-being the country has gone backwards over the last three and a half years.

And it’s not as if the Government has bowed to budgetary constraints. Despite Labour and the Greens issuing Budget Responsibility Rules which they committed to following if they won office in 2017 – among other things promising to run Budget surpluses “unless there is a significant natural event or a major economic shock or crisis” – they are now projecting deficits for the foreseeable future, despite the economy having bounced back more strongly than almost anybody had expected, in part the result of some of the best export prices in many years. The cyclically adjusted deficit in the year which starts on 1 July is projected to be larger, relative to the size of the economy, than that in the year just ending, and very much larger than the deficits which the Key Government ran in the immediate aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis.

It’s hard to disagree with those who say that this is a grossly incompetent Government, piling on public servants and new spending programmes without levelling with the electorate about the taxes that will eventually have to be raised to pay for them.

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