Public Service no longer neutral: advisors give more than advice
Helen Clark's statement on Morning Report today that Madeleine Setchell should never have been appointed to a public service role because she is the partner of John Key's press secretary may well spell the end of the neutrality of the Public Service and publicity of the escalation of the role of the advisor. To my knowledge, Setchell is the first to be sacked through the work of an advisor.
The Prime Minister said that senior advisor Steve Hurring, who made the call about Ms Setchell getting the Environment Ministry job acted independantly of David Benson Pope, even though she knew that Benson Pope was aware of the issues. Benson Pope said he had nothing to do with the case even after Hugh Logan, chief executive of the Environment Ministry, had personally rung and told him about it.
As Colin James notes politicial advisors speak for the ministers. Hurring was carrying out a task on behalf of the minister for which he had no authority to do. If the minister didn`t know that his advisor was carrying out that task, that is an issue. It means either advisors have too much power or such ministers are not on top of their job. If he did know, he should be sacked for lying and misleading the PM.
My view is that political advisors should stick to policy, not get involved in employment matters. They should be appointed to give advice, not just on their political leanings. Sure they will be looking for jobs after the election. It's well known Hurring was heavily involved in Labour, not just the public sector. He was a former Labour vice-president and a former union official. His partner, incidentally, is Helen Kelly, new head of the CTU. Of course that should means nothing as personal relationships should not have anything to do with being employed as a public servant, but you see the irony when Huring apparently thinks it does if that relationship straddles political divides.
Advisors have no legal authority to give advice to the bureaucratic executive. Advisors give advice to - and sometimes make decisions on behalf of - their minister. Actually, according to their code of conduct, that advice has to be impartial but in reality it never is and everyone knows that.
Advisors have no right to make decisions on initiating the removal of public servants. That sort of "dictatorship of officials" should have no place in New Zealand and Helen Clark, who as Minister responsible for the appointment of advisors through Ministerial Services, should start being responsible.
Trouble is, being responsible is not a core Labour value.