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'More medical doctors, not spin doctors': Luxon defends public sector job cuts

NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Tue, 2 Apr 2024, 4:00PM

'More medical doctors, not spin doctors': Luxon defends public sector job cuts

NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Tue, 2 Apr 2024, 4:00PM

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon has defended looming large-scale job cuts across the public sector, saying his Government wants more “medical doctors, not more spin doctors”.

Speaking to reporters in Auckland this afternoon following the release of the Government’s 36-point action plan, Luxon was asked about the number of jobs set to be slashed across the public sector as part a Government edict to state sector bosses to cut costs.

He stressed that the cuts would not impact frontline services, but would be focused on back office and administrative roles.

He said there was “waste” in the public sector and his Government was determined to weed out wasteful spending and ensure value for money as it worked to balance the books and deliver tax cuts to New Zealanders.

“We want more medical doctors, not more spin doctors,” Luxon said.

Ultimately, the number of roles that were cut would be determined by chief executives of government departments, Luxon said.

Ministry of Health workers have been called into meetings, as the agency seeks to slash back on costs in response to the Government’s directive.

The ministry is seeking 6.5 per cent cost savings, as agencies have been urged to find ways to trim back on costs from between 6.5 to 7.5 per cent on average, ahead of Budget Day.

An email sent to an impacted staff member, seen by NZME, states the ministry is “about to commence an organisational change process,” adding leaders will be meeting with staff whose position is proposed to be impacted or affected. Proposed changes range from title or reporting line changes to team size reductions or disestablishment.

Staff have been told they are able to bring a support person to the meeting, which they’ve been urged to prioritise.

Today, Luxon unveiled the Government’s action plan of priorities for the next quarter, to be completed by the end of June.

This comes after the Government’s initial 100-day plan, which undid much of the previous government’s programme, as Luxon had promised.

Following the press conference, Luxon and Health Minister Dr Shane Reti are rolling up their sleeves to receive flu vaccinations.

The Government’s new quarterly plan includes several commitments from the coalition agreements as well as National’s pre-election promises, including public service targets similar to what existed under former National minister Steven Joyce.

The plan reveals the Government’s priorities for the coming months, including restoring the Three Strikes law, establishing the $1.2 billion capital infrastructure fund for the regions, and putting some detail around the plan to grow the housing stock via council planning for the next 30 years.

But the centrepiece of the next quarter will still be the Budget, to be delivered on May 30.

“The critical thing is the Budget and getting the balance right in that Budget, because we could carry on doing things as they are, or we could go to full austerity mode,” Luxon told the Herald.

“We want to find the balance, actually - balancing wasteful spending so that we can protect front-line services, [while providing] tax relief and growing the economy. That’s the key thing that we need to land this quarter.”

The economy is currently in recession - two consecutive quarters of negative growth - and hundreds if not thousands of jobs are being cut as the public awaits the details of Luxon’s tax relief package. He has said it will be broadly similar to what National campaigned on, and has pushed back on warnings over whether it might be inflationary.

‘Pointless and hollow’ - opposition parties react to Govt plan

The Green Party has described the Government’s 36 point plan for the next three months “as pointless as it is hollow”.

“Today the Government has unveiled no surprises and no meaningful solutions in their 36-point bingo card for environmental destruction and trickle-down economics,” Green Party co-leader Chlöe Swarbrick said in a statement.

“Christopher Luxon is not in the boardroom anymore. The irony is these bullet points wouldn’t even hold up in the corporate world: vague, immeasurable and untethered from reality and evidence as they are.”

Greens co-leader Chlöe Swarbrick said the Government plan was a 36-point bingo card for environmental destruction and trickle-down economics. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Greens co-leader Chlöe Swarbrick said the Government plan was a 36-point bingo card for environmental destruction and trickle-down economics. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson said the “vagueness of a lot of these action points fails to paint over the true colours of this Government”.

She claimed this was to prioritise profit over people and planet.

“Climate change is barely mentioned across this plan, and even then, it is to state that the Government will be initiating a review of its methane targets that excludes farming related methane, and that it will keep farming out of the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS),” Davidson said.

“Looking to reopen an oil refinery in the middle of a climate crisis, rolling back Significant Natural Areas at a time our biodiversity is in decline, leaving agriculture as our most polluting sector to continue as is. This all exposes the fact that this coalition of cowards is too scared to defy the demands of their donors and do what is right and fight for a liveable climate.”

Labour Deputy Leader Carmel Sepuloni told RNZ the Government was seemingly trying to capitalise on Luxon’s past experience as a corporate chief executive.

“Putting out points like this and trying to guise it as some chief executive way of running the country is kind of pointless when there’s not much in it,” she said.

“Some of the commitments are just business as usual including delivering a Budget in May and finalising the GPS on Land Transport ... I think half of the commitments are to take policy decisions, commission a study, or start a review.

“The prime minister is approaching running the country like he’s the CEO of an organisation, but as we’ve said a number of times: A country is not a business.”

The article was originally published on NZ Herald, here

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