13 September 2002


“ Work and Income is certainly moving towards an organisation that asks the question: “How can we help you?” rather than “What are you eligible for? ...”
Steve Maharey

“ We’re writing a development strategy based on investment in people and institutions. People need to look at this in contrast to the economic and social programmes of previous governments — where they were often focused on de-regulation as a strategy. ”
Steve Maharey

The Next Three Years

SMaharey02.jpg - 22507 Bytes Employment and Social Services Minister STEVE MAHAREY talks to The Jobs Letter Editor Vivian Hutchinson about his second term in office.

The Jobs Letter: You’ve described the recent election as being a watershed for the Labour Government and its place in New Zealand politics. Why is this a watershed?

Steve Maharey: I think it’s a watershed because we have extremely short terms in this parliamentary system in New Zealand. Once you get into the second term, I think people are saying: “Well, you’ve had a chance to set yourself up ... we now want to see you get your programme fully under way. We want to see some results for it.”

I think we’ve had a lot of results but I think that the expectations will rise during this term. I think we’re conscious as a government that we’ve done the immediate things we had to do and we want to be a long-term government so we can set policies in place that will really make the country prosperous and socially just again.

I also think that this government is pretty clear that it wants to be a long-term government because it thinks the country probably needs a period of change not dissimilar to what we had in the 1930’s. We do have to set up something a bit different and new ... and it has to be capable of putting New Zealand in the position it needs to be to be successful in the 21st century. So I think we’ve crossed over a barrier with this election.

The Jobs Letter: And what are some of the characteristics of this long-term period of change you are seeing?

Steve Maharey: The government has a pretty clear view of what it wants to see New Zealand become — a knowledge driven society, and a society that grows through innovation. This means looking at the way we run the economy in a different way, and reforming the education system. It means thinking about what happens in the family, and what parents need to know to bring their kids successfully through to adulthood. It means running the welfare system in a different way.

We’ve established quite a successful society in the last century. It was built around the welfare state and low skills and relatively low levels of education. Now we know we need something that is very different which means working our way slowly but surely through tertiary and secondary education and the welfare system and the trade system ... everything that can enable us to become a knowledge driven society.

The Jobs Letter: What would you most hope to achieve in the next three years?

Steve Maharey: There are quite specific things around education and training I’d like to see happen. In the tertiary education sector I’d like to see the reforms — that are now coming on stream — pretty much all in place by the time we go back to the next election. We’ve got major skills programmes underway to get 250,000 people in training in five years, and this also will mean the doubling of apprenticeships. We’ve got the education and training leaving age, which I think is one of the major programmes for this next three years.

In the social services area, we would like to hope that we could really push on now with simplifying the benefit system — putting more money into households where poverty is an issue, and really smoothing the pathway into jobs and training so people on a benefit can get out there and get a job ... and stay out there and stay at a job.

We’ve got a lot of work to do around the family. We were doing it anyway but its been given new impetus because of the Commission for the Family. And we’ve got a lot of work to do around issues to do with community and civil society as well.

I think we’ve really got to begin to show how to provide ways for people to work together, to be connected in a practical way in a community to try and resolve social and economic issues together. Those are just the headline issues of a portfolio like this ... I think you can sense quite a lot of work to do.

The Jobs Letter: You’ve got five Ministerial Associates this time on your line-up, which seems quite a lot. Can you describe how that will be managed in terms of their relationship with you as Minister?

Steve Maharey: It will work as a team. Rick Barker will take over a lot of the work done by Ruth Dyson and do the day to day operations of the Department of Work And Income and will focus on some special projects like seasonal workers. Ruth Dyson will stay attached to us around issues to do with people with disabilities and their vocational needs and she’ll also open the Office of Disability Issues.

Parekura Horomia will look after day to day operations of the Community Employment Group — obviously he’s got a lot of knowledge of them. And he will carry on with his work around Maori employment issues. Taito Philip Field will focus on Pacific Island issues right across social areas and focus on Auckland in terms of trying to beef up our work there. Tariana Turia will stay with issues within the job and family and of course her Community and Voluntary portfolio.

Tim Barnett [not a minister] is going to mirror my diary, in other words we’ll have more ability to have somebody to turn up at meetings and give speeches than we could do before ... Tim’s going to work on a range of specific issues such as Human Rights issues and the Commission for the Family. He’s going to assist me with student issues where we’ve got some major reforms that we need to put in place.

So it will be pretty busy ... but everyones got a job to do.

The Jobs Letter: When you became Minister, you said that “changing the culture of Winz” would be one of your major objectives. What’s your assessment of the culture at Work and Income three years later?

Steve Maharey: I think we’re making good progress and that’s certainly mirrored when I travel around the country and talk to people who come to meetings and say things have improved. Some would say its improving very well ... my impression is that its improving in the way that the government would want to.

Five thousand people is a big organisation and you don’t expect that to change quickly in the year that Peter Hughes [the new Chief Executive, replacing Christine Rankin] has been there.

But we are certainly moving towards our goal of an organisation which is driven by a very clear sense of social policy and that asks the question: “How can we help you?” rather than “What are you eligible for?” ... so it becomes a very positive opportunity-driven kind of organisation rather than what it was in the 1990’s.

I’m pretty comfortable that the movement in the culture of the Department has been positive ... and we’ve got a way to go.

The Jobs Letter: If you were speaking to an unemployed person ... what would you be saying would be different for them in the second term of this Labour Government?

Steve Maharey: Well I hope we would have the Working Towards Employment Bill through in the next couple of months. That would set the scene for a lower level of caseloads amongst front-line staff at Work and Income. Case workers have got more time to work with people. They’ll have more tools to work with people in terms of what they can offer in them in terms of returning to work.

It’s a very positive kind of environment that we are trying to create and I suppose its where I’d hope a person who is unemployed — or a person looking for a job but isn’t on the unemployment register, for example someone who is on the DPB — will just look forward to an organisation that gets better and better and better at saying “we’ve got time, we’ve got the tools, we’ve got the resources to really sit with you and work your way through your life.”

It’s a big challenge actually for beneficiaries. I suppose there is going to be a lot more expected of the beneficiary to work with us to get their life on the road. And I personally think that’s the way we ought to be doing it ... but its certainly going to be more demanding for a beneficiary.

The Jobs Letter: You put a great emphasis on “training” in your election campaign. Is the current skills shortage a big surprise to you and the Labour Government?

Steve Maharey: Oh no. In fact I think its very much part of the pattern that we’ve seen emerge that I guess tells the story of success. Yes, the country is moving towards wanting a higher level of skill from its workers ... rather than remaining a quality-producing but low-skill nation. We’re hearing people all over the country saying: “We need more skills”. So it’s a huge problem but it tells you that we’re on the right road. Employers are asking for more skills and we’re on the right road in training people and making sure our skills levels are being lifted all the time.

The Jobs Letter: There’s been a big emphasis on the Modern Apprenticeship scheme, and its heralded as a great success. Where do you see numbers in that getting to eventually?

Steve Maharey: I probably think that, if we are back here for another term, we would certainly want to lift it to around 10,000 people. My ambition has always been to create a road out of school for those young people who want to leave school and then look around a bit and before deciding they want to get into some formal learning. There are many young people who do not want to go into institutional learning ... but they do want to be in a workplace. They do want to get out there and earn a living at the same time as getting formal qualification.

We’ve got the aim of doubling the current numbers by next Christmas and then we want to push on within another eighteen month period for 7,500 people. And that’s current numbers at any one time. It really just comes down to the capacity that we’ve got out there with employers and with Skill NZ staff to deliver a quality outcome.

The Jobs Letter: In your last term, you explored government support for community enterprises and also social entrepreneurs. What do you think have been the successes of that ? Where do you see it going?

Steve Maharey: I think the signs are positive and I’m very happy with the way its rolling out at the moment. They are both long-term policies and I know that we’re going to get scrutinised again during this term about results. We will be asked: “Why aren’t community enterprises providing more jobs?”

But really people misunderstand what these policies are about. They think things are immediate ... like getting a person an apprenticeship. But the underlying theory of what we’re doing is trying to empower communities rather than impose solutions to issues on them.

The community enterprises are really about forming organisations that, over time, might expand the labour market for people and do socially and economically useful work around their community. In the immediate term you are not going to get all the jobs that you hope you are going to get in the future. The policy is actually one of forming the organisation ... as opposed to Taskforce Green which is about forming a job.

The social entrepreneurs scheme I also think is going well. The Community Employment Group is about to appoint a social entrepreneur, in my own area, which I think is typical of what we should be after. He’s a young man who has been a major change agent over a four or five year period in the Highbury area of Palmerston North. He probably would have left that line of work to pursue something else ... because of the burn-out rate in these kinds of people. But the social entrepreneur programme will give him the chance to step back form the work he’s been doing and start some new things and give him a better resource base.

So I’m pretty happy that what we are doing is slowly but surely identifying people who are the movers and shakers, giving them some resources and seeing some real results.

Geoff Chapple, the person who was given the inaugural kea [symbol of a social entrepreneur] has shown results that are more obvious than anybody else — he is blazing a pathway from one end of the country to the other! So you can literally see his work.

But I’m comfortable that we are laying down a foundation of work that will be very long-term. We are symbolically changing the way that you think about social services and welfare. You don’t just think about them state funded areas of work. You begin to think about how does civil society get resourced to be able to take leadership and resolve problems themselves ... that’s what those two programmes are all about.

The Jobs Letter: Jim Anderton and yourself have given great support to the Mayors Taskforce for Jobs. Where do you see this partnership going?

Steve Maharey: I hope from strength to strength because like most things it takes a fair amount of discussion and exploration before you start to see some return for the time people are investing.

I think most Regional Commissioners now have a very strong relationship now with the Mayors and their councils. We’re pretty comfortable with the partnerships that we’re forming in Manukau and Christchurch and so on.

A lot of our collaboration doesn’t necessarily end up in specific programmes but if you go to places like Nelson or Marlborough you’re seeing all the Mayors work very closely on projects with the Regional Commissioner and Work and Income staff.

I think what we are going to increasingly see is a kind of localising of efforts to look at jobs and growth. I see the regionalisation of our policies enabling Mayors and local communities to be able to call on resources as they identify what they want to do.

Jim Anderton’s work with his economic plans are all starting to come on stream. In our area we’ve been out asking Regional Commissioners to mirror their plans ... so as Mayors become engaged with this we’re in a pretty good position to help drive what local people think will be local solutions.

The Jobs Letter: What do you think is going to be your biggest challenge in the next three years?

Steve Maharey: Delivering everything ... it’s one of the frustrations I suppose that we all face. We’re writing a development strategy based on investment in people and institutions. People need to look at this in contrast to the economic and social programmes of the National Government (or the fourth Labour Government) ... where they were often focused on de-regulation as a strategy. They could literally sit at their desks and change everything by doing a change in the regulations. Its very different when what you’re trying to do is to invest in people, invest in institutions, and develop a range of skills and attitudes which will change the way the country goes.

The challenges involve managing our way through the expectations, finding resources to do all this, and doing things in a way in which people can understand and work with you. It’s a “tall order” if you like ... and it’s more like the first Labour Government once again, rather than the fourth Labour Government because its about that kind of investment in a new way of doing things.

It will take time to show some real fruit. Our big challenge is to manage our way through that very difficult period of change ... keeping people focused on the fact that this is where the country needs to go and the results will steadily but surely come.

Sources — Interview with The Jobs Letter Editor Vivian Hutchinson, at The Beehive, 3rd September 2002


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