Source: Taxpayers Union
4 SEPTEMBER 2020FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union is welcoming the State Services Commissioner’s view that an advertisement/video hosted on the Labour Party’s Facebook page “could create confusion about the motivations and political neutrality of the public servants concerned”.
The Commissioner gave this view in response to a complaint from the Taxpayers’ Union:
It would not be appropriate for a public servant to agree to feature in party political electoral material in their official capacity where this implies endorsement by the public servant of the political party. To do so would compromise their political neutrality and by implication that of the Public Service as a whole…..
Placing footage of Ministers and public servants doing their official work on a political party branded platform could create confusion about the motivations and political neutrality of the public servants concerned. I have viewed the material that appeared on the Labour Party Facebook page. I have carefully considered the material, the content of the video, the context in which it appeared, and how it may be interpreted by viewers. In this instance, and having regard to all the circumstances, my judgement is that on balance there is potential for questions to be raised regarding the participation of the public servants in the video.
The video has now been removed from the Labour Party Facebook page. The Prime Minister has since publicly stated that “…we have taken it down, because we don’t want to lead to any questions of there being any compromised position of anyone in this case.”
As stated above, my concern is with the political neutrality of public servants and the Public Service as a whole. Given that, my findings in respect of the video and what has been done subsequently, my judgement is that it is not necessary for me to look into the matter further.
Union spokesman Louis Houlbrooke says, “It’s a relief to now see a clear indication that it was inappropriate for public servants to feature in a party political advert. Taxpayers pay public servants to do their jobs, not to aid their Government’s re-election chances.”
“This decision confirms the long-held ethical requirement on public servants to keep politics out of their job and their job out of politics – particularly during the election period.”
The Commissioner also said, “I understand that none of the public servants involved were aware that the footage would be used in the way that it was.”
Mr Houlbrooke says, “Based on this, it appears there has been a clear breach of the Cabinet Manual, which states ‘Ministers must uphold the political neutrality of the public service and not ask officials to act in any way which would conflict with their obligation of neutrality.’ But enforcement of the integrity of the Manual is ultimately up to the Prime Minister. Some would say that’s a case of the fox guarding the henhouse!”