Story: State services and the State Services Commission

Scandals over nepotism in public-sector employment led to the establishment of a public service commissioner in 1913. In the 2000s the State Services Commission continued to oversee employment of top-tier public servants, and administered a code of conduct for all government employees.

Story by Mark Prebble
Main image: Signing the first chief-executive contract under the State Sector Act 1988

Story Summary

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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 that the government works for the good of society, and doesn’t abuse its power.

Public-sector employment

Since 1913 public-sector employment has been based on the merit principle – the employee’s ability to do the job, not political or other factors. The Liberal government of 1890–1912 often gave jobs to their friends and political allies. The Reform Party, elected in 1912, established an independent public service commissioner to manage all government employment. An appeal board was set up which could review any appointment. In 1962 the Public Service Commission became the State Services Commission.

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. The heads of some other agencies were appointed by the government.

State services commissioner

The state services 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 including national security and intelligence.

Cabinet Office

Cabinet is a group of government ministers who meet regularly to agree 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’.

How to cite this page:

Mark Prebble, 'State services and the State Services Commission', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/state-services-and-the-state-services-commission (accessed 16 July 2018)

Story by Mark Prebble, published 20 Jun 2012