Why downsizing Government is a catch-22

A.C.T. is proposing to downsize Government, says the A.C.T. Party leader David Seymour. The announcement which came out at the A.C.T. Party conference at the weekend in which Mr Seymour proposed a return to the A.C.T. of old, is part of a plan to reshape Government and make it work better for its tax payers.

Or is it?

One needs to be cautious when embarking on a bureaucratic reshuffle. How well does one know the individual departments likely to be affected? What does the Minister want to achieve from a reshuffle? Not all reshuffles have worked, and if an organization has a long serving base of staff who bring skills and knowledge not available outside of the affected agency, who are made to leave, that knowledge and those skills are permanently lost. Using that logic, when Mr Seymour talks about cutting the Executive down to size and reducing the number of aides, how does he know the nature of the aides work – if they work for someone like the Minister of Health or Education or Social Welfare, which are huge portfolio’s to manage, they might be absolutely necessary for the job.

Mr Seymour’s proposal included:

  1. Downsizing the executive from the current 31 Ministers to 20
  2. Downsizing Parliament from 121 M.P.’s to 100
  3. Removing the Maori seats

Let us tackle these proposals one by one.

I have wondered about this in the past myself. I have tried to envisage what I called super ministries, which would be sort of like Ministry of Business Innovation and Enterprise, with a few exceptions. My idea was of a Minister having final oversight for multiple portfolio’s – e.g. an Environment super ministry with Environment, Conservation, Biosecurity departments underneath. There would in this case be 3 “Secretary of Department” positions established. The secretaries would answer directly to the Minister. By doing this

The second proposal is to reduce Members of Parliament from the current 121 to 100. This is perhaps the most interesting proposal and the one most likely to succeed. An earlier referendum in proposed to reduce Members of Parliament to 99, and received 80% support across New Zealand with only the tougher criminal sentencing referendum in 1999 receiving more. Many people, concerned about where their taxes are going, or who are philosophically opposed to large Government might well find themselves in support of this.

The third and final one is guaranteed to run into trouble. Whilst Mr Seymour might find himself in the rare position of having New Zealand First come on board as the party of Winston Peters has long campaigned against the Maori seats on the grounds of being racially divisive. Labour and the Greens are not enthusiastic in the least and National is cool to the idea. For it to succeed, National or Labour would need to come on board.

So, whilst Mr Seymour’s proposal is interesting and has some historical merit, it also has pit falls that he would do really well to acknowledge and avoid.

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