State services are government agencies, including ministries and departments, the police and armed forces, and a number of other organisations. In 2010 they employed about 225,000 people.
A number of laws define and limit the activities of government agencies, to make sure they work for the good of society and don’t abuse their power.
Since 1913 public-sector employment has been based on merit – the employee’s ability to do the job, not political or other factors. The Liberal government of 1891–1912 often gave jobs to its friends and political allies. The Reform Party, which took office in 1912, established an independent public service commissioner to manage all government employment. An appeal board which could review any appointment was set up. In 1962 the Public Service Commission became the State Services Commission. This name change was reversed in 2020.
From 1988 all public servants were employed by the head of their agency, and only heads of core government departments were appointed by the state services commissioner (renamed public service commissioner in 2020). The heads of some other agencies were appointed by the government.
Public service commissioner
The public service commissioner is responsible for:
- appointing top officials
- issuing a code of conduct for public servants
- investigating poor performance in the public sector.
Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
A prime minister’s department was set up in 1926. Today it is called the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. The chief executive is the prime minister’s principal policy adviser, and the department works on issues that include national security and intelligence.
Cabinet is a group of government ministers who meet regularly to decide on priorities. There has been a cabinet secretary since the 19th century, and today the secretary is the head of the Cabinet Office, part of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Each year the office assembles over 2,000 papers from across the public service and distributes them to ministers. Cabinet decisions are printed on green paper and known as ‘cabinet greens’.