Jacinda Ardern finds a central role for outbound Defence chief Helene Quilter

By Stephen Easton

Monday May 20, 2019

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has chosen the head of her defence department to become the next Deputy State Services Commissioner.

Secretary of Defence Helene Quilter — the ministry’s chief executive, working to Minister for Defence Ron Mark — will take up the role when her current five-year appointment expires at the end of June. It’s not clear at this stage who will move into her present role.

Helene Quilter

The Minister for State Services, Chris Hipkins, said she had taken on “one of the most senior roles in the public service” and was well qualified to do so. When required, she will be able to exercise all functions, duties and powers of the commissioner.

“Ms Quilter is a trusted public service leader with a track record of integrity, sound judgement and courage, and the Government is very pleased to make this appointment,” Hipkins said, pointing out she has a Master of Strategic Studies (Distinction) from Victoria University of Wellington.

Quilter fills a vacancy recently created when former deputy commissioner Debbie Power left the role to go the other way, back into the fold as chief executive of the Ministry of Social Development.

In the meantime, the acting deputy commissioner has been John Ombler, who held the role from 2008 to 2013 and went on to do some work around the Australian Public Service, before leading the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority between 2014 and 2016.

‘Good progress’ on government’s gender pay gaps

As Deputy State Services Commissioner, Quilter will play a leading role in a concerted attempt to address gender pay gaps in the NZ public sector. According to Hipkins, “good progress” has already been made.

While his ministerial colleagues are working to reduce the gender pay gap in the wider economy through the Ardern government’s “Wellbeing Budget” the State Services Minister has a Gender Pay Gap and Pay Equity Taskforce that has recently provided new guidelines to government agencies via the State Services Commission.

“Currently, two thirds of public service agencies have no, or very small, gender pay gaps in starting salaries, or have concrete plans to ensure that gender isn’t a factor when it comes to pay,” said Hipkins.

He aims to eliminate all “gender pay gaps in starting salaries for the same roles” in the public service by the end of this year, and do the same for all positions by the end of 2020.

Julie Ann Genter, the Minister for Women, said discrepancies in starting salaries could have a “major effect” on the overall statistics and was pleased to see change occurring.

“I want to acknowledge the commitment of chief executives and their human resources teams for leading this complex work as part of our Gender Pay Gap Action Plan,” she added.

“This work is a first step on a journey, and agencies are at different stages. Agencies have different workforces and different issues driving their gaps. Some of these issues are more complex than others and may take longer to resolve. We’re making good progress but it’s going to take time.”

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