Chief Executive's Overview
Two events of national importance over the last year have demonstrated the diverse role of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. One was the swearing-in as Governor-General of New Zealand, at a ceremony at Parliament on 23 August 2006, of His Excellency the Hon Anand Satyanand – the first New Zealander of Asian heritage to be appointed to the Vice-Regal Office.
The other was the announcement by the Prime Minister, on 2 July 2007, that Her Majesty the Queen had approved four New Zealand Gallantry Awards for service in Afghanistan, including the awarding of the Victoria Cross for New Zealand to Corporal Bill Henry Apiata. This was the first Victoria Cross awarded to a serving New Zealander since the Second World War.
The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, through the Cabinet Office, was closely involved in providing advice and support to the Governor-General and Prime Minister for both these significant events. The consideration of an award of a Victoria Cross and the swearing-in of the new Governor-General, along with the preparations for his taking up his new role, are processes that require absolute discretion and a deep knowledge of precedent, convention, and New Zealand’s constitutional arrangements – as well as an understanding of our changing national identity and the ability to work closely with other agencies. Together, these two events demonstrate DPMC’s contribution to the outcome “Executive government is well conducted and continues in accordance with accepted conventions and practices”, as identified in the department’s Statement of Intent for the year ending 30 June 2007 (SOI 2006).
The department’s role in support of executive government (the Governor-General, the Prime Minister, and ministers) demands high standards of professionalism, clarity of purpose, and excellent relationships across the government system. Our 2006 SOI indicated that we did not expect core activities of the department to alter significantly over the coming three years. These core activities remain: to provide advice to the Prime Minister and Governor-General; to co-ordinate activities across government agencies; to provide systems and administrative support to the Prime Minister, Governor-General, ministers and Cabinet; and to demonstrate leadership across the public service. Each one of these activities has been evident over the past year in areas as diverse as public policy advice, national security, assessments on developments overseas, support for the Governor-General, and support to ministers and Cabinet through the Cabinet Office.
Over the last year, as highlighted in the SOI, a priority for the Policy Advisory Group (PAG) has been to support the government’s three themes: economic transformation, families – young and old, and national identity. Along with Treasury and the State Services Commission (SSC), DPMC has supported those chief executives tasked to lead the theme work on behalf of the lead ministers. In some cases, DPMC advisers have engaged intensively in supporting particular theme initiatives – for example, working with local and regional authorities in Auckland to strengthen regional governance. The PAG has also contributed policy advice on the customary wide range of issues.
In her statement to Parliament in February, the Prime Minister announced six sustainability initiatives that will reinforce and complement the government’s three themes. With the Ministry for the Environment, the Ministry of Economic Development, and other agencies, the PAG worked to shape these six sustainability initiatives through actions to promote sustainable households, improve waste management, promote a carbon-neutral public service, and – in collaboration with the business sector – to strengthen sustainability as a driver for economic development.
Our SOI 2006 noted the work that DPMC had embarked upon to lift the contribution of central agencies. In December, Cabinet received a report on a review of the central agencies’ role in promoting and assuring state sector performance. Ministers accepted the review’s recommendations for strengthening the central agencies’ performance – including a stronger leadership role by the agencies, and greater focus on key areas of government priority. Together with Treasury and SSC, DPMC has now embarked on a cross-agency programme to lift joint performance. Priority policies have been identified for intensified effort (including sustainability); new procedures for joint planning and induction have been initiated; and the three agencies are working more closely together to provide leadership across whole-of-government initiatives.
DPMC has also been active in preparing for and managing domestic and external security risks over the past year. Together with the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management (MCDEM), the Domestic and External Security Group (DESG) co-ordinated a major national disaster exercise “Capital Quake” – the simulation of a large earthquake in Wellington. More than one thousand people participated in the two-day exercise, which was designed and run in close collaboration with local authorities in the Wellington region and more widely. Useful lessons were learned, and these must be drawn on by the agencies involved.
DESG also supported, with MCDEM and the Centre for Advanced Engineering at Canterbury University, a sabbatical visit to New Zealand by Professor Tom O’Rourke of Cornell University. An expert in infrastructure resilience, Professor O’Rourke held a number of seminars and workshops in April. They attracted good attendance from central and local government and also from the private sector, generating suggestions for further work to better strengthen New Zealand’s infrastructure.
The Officials’ Committee for Domestic and External Security Co-ordination (ODESC), chaired by DPMC, met regularly during the year to deal with a series of events which arose (such as despatch of New Zealand defence personnel and police to Tonga in November 2006), and to co-ordinate efforts to assess and mitigate a range of security risks. The Interdepartmental Committee on Security was convened to review the Security in the Government Sector Manual in the wake of the Henry report last year. A programme to strengthen security awareness, training, and procedures across the government sector has been agreed, and will be carried forward over the coming year.
Early in the year, the extending of full support to His Excellency the Governor-General and Mrs Satyanand as they settled into their new roles was the top priority for staff at Government House in Wellington and Auckland. His Excellency undertook a wide range of visits within New Zealand over his first year in office. He also visited Niue and, with the Prime Minister, represented New Zealand at state funerals in Tonga and Samoa.
DPMC has also continued to investigate the state of Government House Wellington (which will be a hundred years old in 2010), with a view to preparing a proposal for refurbishment and maintenance work. Drawing on external expertise – including that of heritage architecture – the department has completed a full assessment of the House. A proposal for a refurbishment project is being drawn up for consideration by ministers.
The activities highlighted above offer only a glimpse of the wide range of activity that DPMC staff undertook over the past year. The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet remains a very busy – a small but central – part of the government machinery. It tends to operate in a less visible way than many other agencies and, with the exception of Government House and the Honours Secretariat of the Cabinet Office, has very limited engagement with members of the public. Staff in the department continue to take considerable pride in their work, and recognise the privilege they have in being able to contribute at the very centre of New Zealand’s democratic system of government.
Once again, I want to place on record my appreciation for the many efforts of staff in the department over the year – in particular for the professionalism they continue to show and their willingness to go that extra step in serving the Governor-General and the Prime Minister. I am very grateful for their ongoing support.
In closing I would like to extend my thanks to Andrew Renton-Green QSO, who has just retired from the position of Official Secretary, Government House. I welcome his successor, Adrian Simcock. I would also like to thank my senior management team for their considerable contributions, professional and personal, over the past twelve months – Diane Morcom, Andrew Kibblewhite, Brent Anderson, and also Gregory Baughen and Steve Long who joined us early in the year.
Maarten Wevers CNZM