Conduct expectations for the Public Service

Statement from State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes

I need to be clear that while the Ombudsman identified issues with fairness and process in the investigation and release of the final report, these concerns relate to one section of a wider report.

Through the course of the investigation certain behaviours were identified that give me cause for concern.

There was a leak of Cabinet papers and a number of other leaks of material that should have been held in confidence to the news media and opposition spokesperson, as well as unauthorised phone calls to him.

This sort of behaviour does not meet the standards I expect from Public Servants. 

Those activities were inappropriate at that time, and they remain unacceptable now.

A professional and politically neutral Public Service that serves the democratically elected Government of the day is at the core of New Zealand's system of government. This is a cornerstone of our constitutional arrangements.

From time-to-time Public Servants may have concerns about an issue, and if this happens it needs to be raised. There are proper channels that Public Servants can use to raise concerns.

Leaking information is never an acceptable way to raise concerns - the ends do not justify the means.

I will have zero tolerance for this sort of behaviour.

As the new State Services Commissioner this is a timely opportunity for me to set out some of the principles that I expect all Public Servants to adhere to.

It is never acceptable to leak official information

The New Zealand public need to have confidence that the Public Service will respect confidences, be trustworthy and remain politically neutral. Leaking official information undermines this trustworthiness and is a political act which compromises the political neutrality of the public service.

I will have zero tolerance for this sort of behaviour.

It is never acceptable to engage with MPs without approval from the Chief Executive and the Minister

The Public Service must remain politically neutral and must faithfully serve the Government New Zealanders have elected. Public Servants engaging with opposition MPs on work matters without the express approval and knowledge of their Chief Executive and Minister undermines political neutrality.

I will be writing to all Public Service Chief Executives reinforcing these expectations.

I have also started a process to review and update the supporting guidance for the State Services Code of Conduct.

These are important documents that set out the standards of conduct expected and give State servants advice and guidance on matters of integrity and conduct. We need to make sure these documents are up to date and are as relevant and useful as possible for State servants and government agencies.

Public Servants should raise concerns through the proper channels

Public Servants who have concerns about an issue need to raise them so they can be properly considered and addressed.

There are a number of legitimate channels that Public Servants can use to raise concerns, including the Protected Disclosures Act, escalation through their agency or direct to their Chief Executive.

Public Servants can also raise matters directly with me as State Services Commissioner if they feel they need to do that. I will take their concerns seriously.

I will direct every Public Service Chief Executive to review their Protected Disclosure Act policies and processes and internal processes for escalation of issues or concerns. I want to ensure every agency has clear, easily accessible systems for Public Servants to raise concerns, and that they are making sure their staff know how to access and use them if they have concerns. 

ENDS

 

Media contact: Tim Ingleton SSC (04) 495 6648, ssc-media@ssc.govt.nz

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