About our public sector investigation

BusinessDesk is working on a major investigation into the quality of New Zealand's public sector, with funding provided by NZ on Air.

We've been granted $174,092 from the Public Interest Journalism Fund to conduct this series. 

If you would like to contribute, or believe you have information of value to the investigation, please get in contact below.

NZ on Air application

Here's what we applied to do:

Big governments are back. That is an inevitable consequence of the huge fiscal stimulus that governments have put into their economies to cushion them against the shock of covid-19.

In the process, huge demands have been and will continue to be made of the public servants who devise and advise on policies.

The quality, motivation and loyalty of public servants to their role as trusted advisers of successive governments is all the more important in such an environment. 

This investigation, which will focus on the policy advisory and regulatory agencies of government, will ask:

  • How fit for purpose is the NZ core public service in 2021?
  • Is the public service attracting the kind of talent required to produce high quality public policy advice is being provided to ministers?
  • How healthy is the ethos of ‘serving the public’ in today’s public service?
  • Who are the people who make up the core public service?
    1. Its leaders, and their careers to reach that leadership 
    2. Its composition by gender, ethnicity, age and educational qualification, and its total numbers
      • Broken down agency by agency
      • With comparisons, where possible, to the same cohort 10, 20, and 30 years ago
      • Rates of staff turnover, changes in average levels of seniority
      • Total numbers and
      • Location – Wellington vs other parts of the country?
  • What does a public service ‘career’ look like in 2021, compared to 30 years ago?
  • How well does the public service meet its obligations under the Treaty of Waitangi?
  • Is there any truth to the perception that the public service has lost much of its capacity to give ‘free and frank’ advice, compared to public servants of a previous generation?
  • If so, what is causing that?
    1. 24/7 new cycles?
    2. Coalition politics?
    3. The threat of frank advice being exposed via the Official Information Act?
    4. The public service is unattractive compared to other careers for the smartest New Zealanders?
      • If so, is this more true in some agencies than others?


Project editorial team

  • Pattrick Smellie: BusinessDesk editor and CEO and one of New Zealand’s most-respected journalists. Email Pattrick.
  • Nikitin Sallee: A former political editor and then the founding communication director at Treasury, Nikitin is the ideal person to edit this investigation. Email Nikitin.
  • Oliver Lewis: An up and coming investigative journalist, Oliver previously worked for Stuff in their Christchurch Press newsroom. Email Oliver.
  • Jem Traylen: A BusinessDesk reporter, Jem has a masters in economics from the University of Canterbury and has also previously worked in the public sector. Email Jem.
  • Andy Fyers: Andy is BusinessDesk's data editor and is in charge of wrangling data for a tool to explain the key people in government entities, and how they are linked. He's previously worked for Stuff. Email Andy.

Sponsorship opportunities

If your business needs to reach the public sector, talk to us about the Public Sector Explorer, an ongoing data tool mapping all senior people within the public service. Email Matt Martel or Jacqueline Freeman for details.