Civil Service Systems in Comparative Perspective series
Edited by John Halligan
Chapter 5: The New Zealand public service: national identity and international reform
R.C. Mascarenhas INTRODUCTION New Zealand has evoked academic interest since the early 20th century for promoting social and economic policies that encouraged the development of a democracy based on political equality (Lipson 1948). Once described as the ‘mecca of socialism’, the country made a dramatic departure in the 1980s by adopting neo-liberal policies that brought about a transformation in the state’s role in the economy. These policies of liberalisation, deregulation and privatisation, introduced by a Labour government elected in 1984, led to public management reform that again attracted worldwide attention in the 1990s. As a small democracy operating in the British tradition, New Zealand has in some respects been that tradition’s best product in terms of the faithful replication of institutions and practices. The two arguments in this chapter deal with the fundamental tensions, or dialectic, in the development of the New Zealand public service.1 First, there is the search for and formation of the service’s identity – the continuing influence of constitutional links and heritage, despite the shift over time from colonial status – compared with the country’s own shaping experiences. Second is the set of challenges to this identity posed by public sector reform: the neo-liberal experiments of the late 1980s and early 1990s. In this study of the New Zealand public service two different perspectives are adopted. The first is that in a modern industrialised society one expects to have established political and administrative institutions that are generally prevalent in similar types of societies. That assumption – while not merely...
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