Treasury's Kapa Haka group

Wellington’s public servants have long had to put with cliched descriptions of their role.

Roger Hall’s “Glide Time” defined them as cardigan wearing, work shy, schemers more interested in office politics than anything else.

And even today some Ministries — like Foreign Affairs and Trade, for example – are regarded even by other public servants as elitist and arrogant.

But the capital’s most powerful agency, Treasury draws the most opprobrium.

Cabinet Minister, Gerry Brownlee has called Treasury officials “dopey”; he once described the whole department as staffed by people “who fluff around the place pontificating” and said a Treasury report was the “usual load of rubbish”.

He’s an extreme, but even so, there are plenty of people in Wellington ready to privately agree with him.

After all, Treasury’s job is generally to say no to other departments which is an unlikely way to win friends.

But more seriously, the department has obviously felt that it has been losing credibility with New Zealand as a whole in part because it could be seen as an exclusive Pakeha, largely male institution staffed by University graduates.

So three years ago it decided to embark on a strategy it called “Diversity and Inclusion”.

Papers released under the Official Information Act offer an insight into how the department began to try and turn itself around.


A Treasury Board paper last year from Fiona Ross, Chief Operating Officer and Deputy Secretary Strategy, Performance and Engagement said that the case for change was based around a performance challenge for the Treasury: that a more diverse and inclusive Treasury would be a higher performing Treasury.

She said that an audit within Treasury had found:

  • “Our failure to sufficiently challenge traditional policy approaches and beliefs is limiting the quality and effectiveness of our ideas and solutions.”
  • “A lack of understanding of and engagement with the wider New Zealand community is impeding the degree to which the Treasury  caon bring new perspectives and thinking to bear in its work.”
  • “Many of our ways of operating are strongly influenced by a set of unconscious biases that are affecting our performance.”

A key focus was obviously building engagement with Maori.

“Te Puna Kaupapa is our strategy for building this capability, both to support our increasing work in the Crown- Māori space, and to create an environment where Māori perspectives are better integrated into our thinking and business,” said Ross.

And this has led to an untypical development.

“Te Puna Wai, the Treasury’s waiata and kapa haka group, are an important part of our Māori capability strategy.

“Te Puna Wai is open to all Treasury employees,  and provides a safe and supportive place to learn not just waiata and kapa haka, but to connect to the Māori world.

“In 2015 the Treasury entered Te Kōnohete – the annual kapa haka competition between public service agencies – for the first time.”

Regarding ethnicity at Treasury, 76.9% of its staff last year were Pakeha; 7.6%, Asian; 6.4% Maori but only 1.5% Pasifika.

Significant parts of Treasury’s work are targeted at the Pacific population in the country.

“Treasury in its Living Standards Framework recognises that the engagement of Pacific New Zealanders in all facets of the economy and society is necessary for the New Zealand of the future to have a robust, sustainable and competitive economy, with strong and independent families and communities,” the papers say.

“Pacific peoples have a particular perspective on the world and their place within it that needs to be recognised in designing our advice and interventions.  

The papers said that clear perspective included a strong focus on the role of communities and families and a central role for religion.

So the strategy proposed that Treasury needed to build internal organisational knowledge and capability at the same time as it built connections and relationships with Pacific economic stakeholders and leaders in the wider community.

There are no papers reporting on how the strategy has been implemented or how successful it has been – but the department does seem to be trying.