9 Mar 2010

Cabinet to consider proposals to merge departments

3:13 pm on 9 March 2010

Prime Minister John Key says any moves to merge government departments are driven by efficiency, not ideology.

Mr Key says proposals to merge a number of government agencies will be considered by the Cabinet business committee on Monday night, before going to the full Cabinet next week.

The proposals are understood to include merging the National Library and National Archives into the Department of Internal Affairs; and combining the Foundation for Research, Science & Technology and the Ministry of Research, Science & Technology. A third merger would move the Food Safety Authority into the Ministry of Agriculture & Forestry.

Mr Key would not rule out reports of such mergers, but cautioned people about jumping to conclusions.

"This isn't an ideological exercise; this is really about saying how do we deliver the best service for the New Zealand taxpayer, how do we make sure it's affordable, and how do we deliver efficiency," he said on Monday afternoon.

State Services Minister Tony Ryall earlier confirmed reviews had been carried out, but says no decisions have been made, and there is no talk of large-scale restructuring.

Debate sought

The Public Service Association {PSA} and the Labour Party are calling for public debate on any changes.

The Labour opposition says the Government will break a pre-election promise if it carries out the mergers.

In a pre-election speech in September 2008, Mr Key said a National government would not radically reform the public service.

Labour state services spokesperson Grant Robertson says the mergers would be a major restructuring and Mr Key has gone back on his promise.

Mr Robertson says the plans are just the tip of the iceberg, with other talks under way for a larger Ministry of Information and another merger in the justice area.

The PSA says it looks like the Government plans to change the public sector without any public debate or consultation.

National secretary Brenda Pilott says the union is not opposed to mergers, but their merits should be debated openly on a case-by-case basis.

Independence issue

The Archives Association says it would strongly oppose any move to reduce the independence of the chief archivist.

President Joanna Newman says the position has an essential role in democracy by keeping government departments accountable for public records.

Ms Newman says a chief archivist who reported to the head of the Department of Internal Affairs could struggle to maintain the necessary control over the handling of records.