Political polling ‘corrodes’ faith in public service, says NZ opposition

By Shannon Jenkins

Thursday July 25, 2019

Getty Images

The New Zealand National Party’s Nick Smith has slammed three NZ government departments for conducting polling into people’s political persuasions.

The opposition State Services spokesperson has said the polling is “plain wrong” and compromises the political neutrality of the public service.

“It is a waste of public money and it blurs the boundary between the state and political parties,” he said. 

He referred to the Inland Revenue Department, which came under fire earlier this year for including a question on political views in a poll on the tax system. The Department of Conservation and Statistics New Zealand also dabbled in research on political leanings.

Nick Smith / CC BY 3.0 NZ NZ National Party

NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern also criticised the IRD’s actions.

“There should never be political questions attached to that research in terms of the way people vote. That’s just not appropriate,” she said in February.

Smith said polling such as this “corrodes public confidence in the public service”. 

“It risks policy advice being targeted towards the supporters of whomever may be in government when we want tax policy that is good for all New Zealanders,” he said.

He argued that departments are doing work that “ministers and MPs should be doing themselves” and called on the state services commissioner to stop polls for good.

READ MORE: Major New Zealand public service overhaul aims for a joined-up, “fleet-footed” government

Last month, Smith attacked the government’s plans for public sector reform, arguing they would decrease accountability and ultimately be a waste of money.

He did, however, acknowledge that some key elements of the reforms would be beneficial, such as plans to allow public servants to move across the system in a new whole-of-government approach.

“It is useful to enable public servants to move more easily between different agencies, this is something we championed while in Government. There are also some useful changes that make the process of re-organising state agencies more efficient,” he said.

The reforms will embed the idea of wellbeing into the public service. They will also break down the lines between bureaucratic silos, according to Minister for State Services Chris Hipkins.

READ MORE: Ardern displays enduring faith in government being a force for good

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