Q + A
Hosted by PAUL HOLMES
In response to TONY RYALL interview
PAUL Well, now, the public service did get a bit bloated, didn't it? In fact, it increased, what, 50% in nine years before this government came in.
HELEN KELLY - Council of Trade Unions
Yeah, well, the previous government rebuilt the public service after a period of slash and burn from the last National government, and the reality is that that cuts in public services have been right across the board. We've seen $400 million taken out of early-childhood teaching services. We've seen 500 hours at Capital & Coast health cut from old-people's care. We've seen mental-health services cut in Canterbury. This isn't a reinvestment strategy, cutting in one place and shifting to the front line. This is pure cuts. They plan to cut another 2% of spending in terms of their spending against GDP. We've got more to come, and I think it's a real concern.
RON MARK - Federation of Maori Authorities
I think if you're looking at the bigger question - cuts in the civil-service sector, I think what he's not understanding is that if you carry on cutting, you're actually cutting into your voters, into people. You're cutting into families. I stood in Rimutaka in the last election, and whilst it was very popular to stand and up and say, 'We're going to slash the faceless bureaucrats and get rid of them,' what that actually translated to in Rimutaka was a sizeable number of people in Rimutaka being made unemployed, and right in the middle of a recession. I tell you one thing I don't think he understands is that the uncertainty generated in the civil sector is huge. People are now deciding to seek job opportunities before they're made redundant. People are actually moving offshore, the very opposite of what the government said it wanted to it. It wanted to keep skilled people in New Zealand. There are skilled people now that the state sector's losing that they can't& Barry Matthews' job's still open. Where are these people going to come from? And the uncertainty that's now being generated - we will feel it in the service delivery as consumers and as taxpayers. We will feel it.
PAUL Our public service complement, though, it still a fraction of what it was in the '70s and '80s. Well, it is a fraction of what it was in the '70s and '80s. Do you worry about some of these cuts?
JENNIFER CURTIN - Political Analyst
Well, I think, really, it looks like it's going down further, OK, and certainly this could be seen as a problem. If they get any lower than 31,000 in total absolute of core public servants, then we start to wonder if they're going to be able to do their job properly, really. Because there's a natural equilibrium that we would see. A government that provides a public service need a core number of&
PAUL It's always a delicate balance, though, isn't?
HELEN No, it's pure ideology.
PAUL You can overburden your country with public servants.
HELEN It's pure ideology.
PAUL But you've got to have a good public service.
HELEN Yeah, no, it's pure ideology. This government believes in privatising services.
PAUL Nothing wrong with a bit of ideology, is there?
HELEN No, well, there's nothing wrong with it, except when it starts interfering with child safety and health services and early-childhood education, and then there is a problem with it.
PAUL I tell you what is a worry, though, is the number of specialists. Now, as Guyon pointed out to Tony Ryall, we have fewer specialists per capita than any other developed country. We lose our graduate class of doctors every year to probably Australia. 300, the equivalent of. So 300 roughly graduate a year, and we lose 300 doctors offshore. Here's what Tony Ryall was saying about this.
Tony Ryall: At the same time as being one of the world's
biggest exporters of doctors, we're also one of the biggest
Guyon Espiner: And is that a problem?
Tony Ryall: Well, I think we should do a lot better.
PAUL So, they are buyable, though. While we talk about losing our graduates, we can buy foreign doctors. That a problem?
RON We've got foreign doctors driving taxis right now. There's pluses and minuses on that, isn't there? You can bring in people who are foreign doctors, and then we're bringing people through the immigration process who are medical experts. They're pumping petrol at Avonhead BP in Christchurch, or they were while I was down there.
PAUL I know, I've had very nice conversations with a lawyer from Belgrade.
RON And people are often saying, 'Why are we graduating all these people in New Zealand and watching them go offshore?' That is where the first block has to made, and I think their announcement of bonding scheme was a great thing, but interesting& I was really interested to hear that 115 doctors had taken it up, because as the 27th of April, the Minister's answer to a written question said that no one had signed up - not doctors, not specialists, not nurses. So either within the last quarter, there's been a sudden upsurge in the uptake& It'd be really interesting to have a look at those figures to see how many of those people are specialist who've taken up the bonding option.
PAUL I wonder why they don't take up the bonding option in great numbers. It seems a very good thing.
JENNIFER But I think doctors - you know, they do a lot of training to get to the point of graduating. We shouldn't expect them to stay. They want to go away for a couple of years. The issue is bringing them back, really, and the issue is increasing the number of GPs, and getting patients to see doctors upfront to stop them going to hospitals, because that's where the costs are - it's the hospital sector rather than the primary-health sector.
PAUL If I can give you some very fine analysis on this, it doesn't hurt from time to time to put a rocket up the backside of the health service.
HELEN Well, it depends what you're doing, actually, and depends why you're doing it, and I think we've got a very good health service and it's a public health service, so that's very unique as well.
PAUL It needs to be reminded that it's not about itself; it is about other people - from time to time.
HELEN Yeah, but, actually, there's also this fixation, and I am concerned about doctor recruitment and doctor retention, but it's also this fixation with that level, when a hell of a lot of staff work underneath that and are able to save doctors time and support that work and treat patients. You know, we've got highly qualified nurses here. We've got highly qualified clerical staff who are all&As Ron says, their jobs are under threat, and the anxiety that they are facing in those services and in other services in the Ministry of Health.
RON There's two things I want to point out: one, what we're also seeing, quite separate to people suddenly saying, 'Well, if I'm going to be made redundant, I might as well be made redundant at a time of my own choosing, so I'll start looking for a job now and I'll go now.' Quite apart from that, you're also seeing an upsurge in government departments using contracted employees, using consultants, and the workers are& The fundamental point that I think the government's missing is that if you say you're getting rid of clerks to bring the resources to the front, as opposed to putting them in the back officer, if you don't remove the work - the paperwork, the administrative work&
PAUL Well, he says they have. Did you see that?
RON No, they have not.
PAUL He said they did. He said they've reduced the paperwork which you've got to send to Wellington by between a quarter and a third.
RON The amount of accounting, reporting and compliances demanded of government departments, demanded of minsters' offices, demanded by members of parliament, demanded by select committees has not changed one iota.
HELEN And they're not moving it to the front line.
PAUL By God, that paperwork - when you're in business, for example.
HELEN That's a myth that they're moving it to the front line. They're cutting. The budget said they want to save this money. This is not money that they're cutting. I work with the Ministry of Health a lot. They're the most amazing team of people look at international research, designing policy initiatives here that save money, that remove duplication. Once you start cutting those - and massive cuts he talked about to the Ministry of Health - you start wasting money in the public service. You start having to use consultants. You start having to use contractors.
PAUL Yeah, but there's another factor, isn't there? There is another factor - every dollar we spend had got to be maximised. The country is broke, for God's sake. The other person I'd like to ask&
HELEN We had $460 million worth of tax cuts, Paul. The country is not broke. If we can afford to give you your extra 200 bucks a week&
PAUL I hardly think it's that much.
HELEN &we can afford to retain good policy services.
PAUL How many doctors do they keep on the set of The Hobbit, by the way? Therefore, if The Hobbit goes to the Czech Republic, how many doctors will not be employed?
RON How many hobbits are doctors?
HELEN Jennifer? Talk about The Hobbit.
PAUL Do they have hobbit doctors?
HELEN I'm more interested in the targets - the way in which he's set these targets up, and I think that that's very clever, because what they've done is organised a way of measuring what they plan to do, and then they've got the measure and they can say they've performed, and National can go into the next election saying, 'Oh, we've ticked these six boxes.'
PAUL Well, you see, I thought he was very good on television this morning.
RON I thought he was very good. He did a very good job.
PAUL Best he's ever been, and he can tell a very good story, for example, on Wellington.