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Act's Brooke van Velden defends tweet about public service staff cuts

Claire Trevett,
Publish Date
Thu, 21 Mar 2024, 3:44PM

Act's Brooke van Velden defends tweet about public service staff cuts

Claire Trevett,
Publish Date
Thu, 21 Mar 2024, 3:44PM

Act deputy leader Brooke van Velden is unrepentant about an Act Party tweet which said “good” in response to news hundreds of public sector workers were set to lose their jobs.

Act tweeted that in response to news that the Ministry for Primary Industries was planning to slash 384 roles. The Ministry of Health has also confirmed that a quarter of the jobs at the ministry could be scrapped in its proposed restructure – up to 200 jobs – after a consulation period.

The cuts are part of the coalition government’s drive to cut public sector spending by requiring government departments to find 6.5 per cent of 7.5 per cent of savings – but to restrict staff cuts to back-office roles.

Act’s tweet said “Good. The number of bureaucrats at MPI increased by 52% - or 1,277 - between 2017-23. The average salary at MPI is about $102,000.”

Van Velden defended it, saying she did not regret the wording of the tweet, although it was not sent by her personally. “I think what is important here is that as a government, we are making these hard decisions that the previous government should have made.”

She said she did acknowledge that it was it was “very stressful” for people who were going through voluntary redundancy processes or losing their jobs.

“That doesn’t just happen in the public sector, this happened in the private sector every day that people lose their jobs and turn up to new jobs. That’s the labour market.”

Van Velden said the increase in size of the public service had not been matched by the outcomes it delivering. “Let’s take a step back and say how do we get the right outcomes? Just employing more people hasn’t led to the best outcomes for New Zealand.”

Finance Minister Nicola Willis would not give a view on Act’s response, saying she had not seen the tweet. However, she defended the need for the job cuts.

She said while her “heart went out” to anybody who lost their jobs in any circumstances, the public service had grown significantly in previous years. She did not yet know the final number of likely job cuts across the public sector, but expected to know that in time for the May Budget.

“No government can live beyond its means indefinitely. And our priority as a government is ensuring that new spending is prioritised towards front line services and towards income relief for hard-working New Zealanders.”

She said public servants were “skilled, talented people” and she was sure they would find other job opportunities.

She believed government agencies had been aware for some time that the levels of “back-office personnel” were unsustainable.

Labour’s public service spokesperson Ayesha Verrall said Act’s tweet was cruel.

“These are real people who work in the service of the country and when they are facing redundancies I think we need to express gratitude for the service they have done.”

She said today was “terrible news” for public servants from a number of government departments.

“As well as the country being in recession, the impacts on Wellington will be particularly tough when there are a number of people losing their jobs right there.”

“I find it impossible to believe you could cut 25 per cent of the positions in the Ministry of Health and that not have an impact on the safety of medicines in New Zealand and the way in which our health system is regulated, and on important aspects of cancer care.”

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