The (enduring) public background to public service

Prepared for the public sector CEOs Retreat, 6 March 2014

State or public: Do public servants serve the state or the public? “State” and “public” are generally used as if they are fully interchangeable but are they?

If public servants serve the state, that is, if they were state servants only, then the duty would be simply to carry out the lawful instructions of the minister who (though, as a member of Parliament an elected representative of the public) is appointed by the head of state to be a minister of state.

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Getting the measure of the regulatory risk in 2014

[Filed 18 November and published in Boardroom Magazine December 2013]

Elections change politics but not necessarily policy direction. So there are two questions for 2014: will the politics change much; and will the policy direction change?

In 2011 the politics changed little. National stayed in office, supported by the same three parties as after 2008 but needing at least two for a majority instead of ACT alone as in 2008-11.

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Forum proposes big changes in water controls

The Land and Water Forum wants water use rights “easily transferable between users, to allow it to move to its highest-valued use”. So “barriers to transfer and trading” should be removed.

This is the major finding in the forum’s third report. It stops short of recommending a resource rental — Federated Farmers blocked that. But, if its recommendations are adopted, it would set up a regime that could be adapted (for example, by a Labour-Green government) to include resource rentals.

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Who should do electoral reform?

The Minister of Justice says she will seek consensus from the political parties about what aspects of the Electoral Commission’s MMP reform proposals to implement.

This was the process followed by her predecessor, Simon Power, in respect of electoral finance. That was much better than the ram-it-through-on-a-narrow-majority approach taken by his Labour predecessor. But it was limited in what it achieved because of the need for consensus in advance.

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Will Key still be cruising in a choppy second term?

Colin James on Key’s management in the context of the 2011 election for Management Magazine August 2011

John Key looks to be cruising to a second term. But will that term be as cruisey as the first? Will he then have to place bigger bets? Does he have at 50 the nerve he had at 25? Will his decentralised management style still work or he need to exercise stronger and more definitive leadership?

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Rethinking how to get richer

Colin James for The Australian, 20 June 2011

How does a tiny economy ride the turbulent 2010s? By playing to strengths and thinking its way to new strengths. New Zealand has yet to do that rethinking.
The 2010s global economy is more interdependent and interconnected than five years ago. Pathways, technology and platforms are changing rapidly and unpredictably. Rising (but potentially unstable) Asia and its destabilising scramble for resources are reshaping the global order. People are moving to cities in huge numbers and cities increasingly drive global economic growth.

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A rare opportunity for excellence

Colin James for Boardroom on Christchurch and Auckland 28 March 2011

Christchurch was a mostly flat and mostly unremarkable place, with a CBD out of proportion to its modern economic weight. That’s a common Wellington view. Sure, Canterbury is 15% of the national economy but much of that is outside Christchurch. What’s the fuss, now it’s (nearly) off the TV screens?
The fuss is the opportunity. For New Zealand.

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Justice before politics

Random thought 27 March 2011

One of the great battles on the way from monarchy to democracy in Britain was the abolition of the bill of attainder. A bill of attainder was in effect a political trial of someone who had run afoul of the authorities. It was aimed at a person, not a type of activity. You could act within the law but nonetheless lose your head.

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Day 30 on the lily pond: the perplexing point of the point of no return

Random thought November 13 2010

David Suzuki, to some a saint, told a Green-organised conference on 12 November that we humans are past the 29th day on the lily pond. That is, we are very near ecological catastrophe.

The 29th day is the name of a book by environmentalist Lester Brown, who posed an old French riddle: “If you place a lily pad in an empty pond and it divides to become two lily pads the second day, four lily pads the third day and eight lily pads the fourth day and you know that the lily pond will be completely filled with lily pads on the 30th day, on which day will the pond be half full?”

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