The Government’s Plans for Our Future Are Well-meant, But Contain Some Glaring Omissions.
Listener: 1 June 1996.
At the foot of this column are the government’s “Strategic Result Areas”. They may not seem important to the public, but they are certainly prominent in the mind of the government advisers, who are likely to pop the acronym SRA into their conversations. SRAs aim to “bring a more coherent strategic approach to managing government”, and “build an understanding of what the Government intends to accomplish, and how it plans to go about using its agencies.” They set out “the contribution that the public sector will make to achieving the Government’s strategic vision for New Zealand.” Practically a public servant concerned with a policy development checks to see whether a proposal is within the SRAs. If not, the government is likely to look unfavourably on the policy. No wonder officials anxiously discuss SRAs.
These are not just platitudes like those the Planning Council use to churn out. They affect the behaviour of the public servants, and the development of policy. Nor are they secret. The prime minister’s office will readily send you Strategic Result Areas for the Public Sector, and invite you to comment. The SRAs are being reviewed this July, to set a revised agenda for next year (although a new government may choose different ones). If this were the late 1960s or the early 1970s the government might even have invited everyone to form a group and write their own set. (If you get enthusiastic keep your alternative below, say, 350 words. Remember it is about what the public sector can do, not an entire national plan.)
I am not going to offer an alternative, but let me draw your attention to a couple of the SRAs, and a missing one. First look at number 5. Is all we want from our communities is that they be secure? The picture that comes to mind is a rich neighbourhood in the third world, where all the houses are surrounded by fortified walls.
Second, in regard to number 4, do we want the public education system to focus only on training? How is a preschool or primary school to respond to the SRAs? I hope our secondary schools are also concerned with teaching courtesy, citizenship, curiosity, respect, knowledge, ethics: all those notions we include in education.
That leads to the extraordinary omission. Apparently the government places no obligation on the public sector to pursue culture, heritage, matters of the intellect, recreation and leisure. Among the services we expect from the public sector are libraries, museums and art galleries, sporting facilities, recreation and leisure facilities, historical preservation and research, the promotion of literature, the arts, and sport, the cultivation of ethnic diversity and so on. How does the Office of the Race Relations Commissioner, or the Hillary Commission, the Symphony Orchestra, or New Zealand on Air justify their activities in terms of the SRAs? Are you surprised that the Orwellian named Creative New Zealand cut back on its poetry grants last year? No wonder government is distorted. The country seems to be run by uneducated philistines who live in forts.
The current SRAs were a first attempt. Let us hope that next year’s do not recall Hobbes description of the life of man without proper government as being “solitary, poor nasty, brutish and short.”
STRATEGIC RESULTS AREAS
1. Maintaining and accelerating economic growth.
Creating and maintaining a stable secure and resilient overall economic environment which will engender greater confidence amongst: individuals and families to work, save and invest in skills; business to invest, export and create employment; overseas investors to invest in New Zealand.
2. Enterprise and innovation. Reinforcing a successful enterprise economy through maintaining and progressing an open trade environment that: is conducive to the fair and efficient conduct of business; is conducive to the efficient operation of markets; rewards work, enterprise and innovation; and enhances investor confidence.
3. External linkages.
Enhancing New Zealand’s position as a successful and secure trading nation by strengthening economic linkages with international markets and countries and enhancing New Zealand’s overall security.
4. Education and training.
Progress towards higher and more appropriate skill development to support the achievement of stronger employment and income growth,
5. Community security.
Enhanced community security through the development of policies with a greater emphasis on partnerships between government agencies and the community that will better protect individuals and their communities, reduce the incidence of family violence and reduce pressures on the criminal justice system.
6. Social assistance.
Developing programmes that address multiple disadvantage and enable individuals to progressively improve their ability to participate in society.
7. Health and disability services.
Introduction of services to improve the availability and the effectiveness of health and disability services.
8. Treaty claims settlement.
Significant progress towards the negotiation of fair and affordable settlements to well founded grievances arising under the Treaty of Waitangi.
9. Protecting and enhancing the environment.
Protecting and enhancing our environment in a manner consistent with maintaining environmental values in a growing market economy. Environmental outcomes will be achieved through means that impose least cost on the economy and the environment.