State Services Commission

The State Services Commission (SSC) (Māori: Te Komihana O Ngā Tari Kāwanatanga) is the central public service department of New Zealand charged with overseeing, managing, and improving the performance of the State sector of New Zealand and its organisations.

State Services Commission
Te Komihana O Ngā Tari Kāwanatanga
Agency overview
Preceding agency
  • Public Service Commission
JurisdictionNew Zealand
HeadquartersLvl 10, Reserve Bank Bldg,
2 The Terrace,
Annual budgetVote State Services
Total budget for 2019/20
Minister responsible
Agency executive

The SSC's official responsibilities, as defined by the State Sector Act 1988,[2] include:

  • appointing and reviewing Public Service chief executives,
  • promoting and developing senior leadership and management capability for the Public Service,
  • providing advice on the training and career development of staff in the Public Service,
  • reviewing the performance of each department,
  • providing advice on the allocation of functions to and between departments and other agencies,
  • providing advice on management systems, structures, and organisations in the Public Service and Crown entities,
  • promoting, developing, and monitoring equal employment opportunities policies and programmes, and
  • any other functions with respect to the administration and management of the Public Service, as directed by the Prime Minister.

The role of SSC, as described in the four year plan, is "to work with leaders across the State Services to change the way agencies think, organise and operate".[3]


The State Services Commissioner is the chief executive of the commission and has a range of responsibilities for the public service, the State Services and the wider state sector.[4] The position has previously been known as the Public Service Commissioner, Chairman of the Public Service Commissioner, Chairman of the State Services Commission, and Chief Commissioner of the State Services Commission. The current State Services Commissioner is Peter Hughes.[5]

Modern role

The State Services Commissioner plays a central role in New Zealand's public service. One of the Commissioner's most visible roles is in the employment, supervision and dismissal of senior executives in individual Government departments; by preventing Ministers of the Crown from becoming personally involved in employment decisions, this acts as a safeguard against politicisation of the public service. The Commissioner also has power to issue codes of conduct for parts of the public service, to investigate Government departments, and to advise the Government on the organisation of the public service.

The Commissioner has a statutory duty to act independently of Ministerial direction, except in matters concerning the appointment and dismissal of Departmental chief executives.

Regarding the appointment of Departmental chief executives, the Commissioner plays a key role. The Commissioner is responsible for:

  • Notifying the responsible Minister or Ministers of the vacancy;
  • Advertising the position;
  • Assembling an interviewing panel which includes, at minimum, the Commissioner and his or her Deputy; the Commissioner may invite others in consultation with the Minister;
  • Recommending the preferred candidate to the Minister, who will then refer the recommendation to the Governor-General in Council.

The Governor-General in Council may override the Commissioner's recommendation by appointing a different person to the vacant executive post.

A chief executive may not be appointed for any longer than five years. Under the State Services Act, the Commissioner negotiates terms and conditions of employment with each Departmental chief executive, subject to the approval of the Prime Minister and the Minister of State Services. The Commissioner may also recommend that a given chief executive be reappointed when the executive's contract expires, though the Government is free to ignore such a recommendation.

The Commissioner is empowered, with the agreement of the Government, to dismiss a Departmental chief executive, "for just cause or excuse". That is, the Government is by law forbidden from firing any chief executive or instructing a Commissioner to do so, but has the power to retain a chief executive against the Commissioner's advice.

Appointment, Dismissal and Term of Office

The position of State Services Commissioner is one of the few positions in New Zealand's public service where Ministers are directly involved.

The appointment and dismissal procedures and the term of office are set forth in the State Sector Act 1988, as amended from time to time. Section 3 of the Act specifies that the Commissioner is to be appointed by the Governor-General in Council on the recommendation of the Prime Minister. Section 13 limits the term of office to five years, though this term may be further reduced in the Order in Council in which the appointment is made.

Section 17 of the Act lists a small number of circumstances in which the Commissioner is deemed to have resigned. Otherwise, the Commissioner is well protected. The Governor-General has no power to dismiss the Commissioner. The Governor-General may suspend the Commissioner under Section 16 for misbehaviour or incompetence, but must then explain why to the House of Representatives within seven sitting days; and even then the Commissioner is safe in his position unless the House resolves within three weeks after receiving the Governor-General's explanation to remove him or her from office. Otherwise, the Commissioner is restored to office.

History of the role

At the end of the first decade of the twentieth century, New Zealand's public sector was widely considered to be inefficient and wasteful. The incoming MacKenzie administration launched the Hunt Commission on the civil service. The Hunt Commission recommended the establishment of a Board of Management under Cabinet to have 'absolute and undisputed power' in 'all matters relating to the control and management of the Service – ... appointments, salaries, promotion, suspensions, dismissals, and indeed everything affecting officers – '.

Public Service Act 1912

The Hunt Commission and its recommendations lead to the Public Service Act 1912 and the role of the Public Service Commissioner. The Act and the new Commissioner removed Ministers' direct involvement in appointments and personnel administration, separating the 'political' and 'administrative' functions, both in conduct of the Government's business and in management of the Public Service itself.

State Services Act 1962

The State Services Act 1962 replaced the Public Service Commissioner with a multi-member Commission comprising a chairman and Commissioner. This point also marked a culture change towards a focus on political neutrality.

State Sector Act 1988

The State Sector Act 1988 reverted to having a single State Services Commissioner, adding the position of Deputy State Services Commissioner. Ministers were granted some role in the appointments of departmental chief executives. There was some concern at the time that this would revert the system to a pre-1912 state.

Following the Review of the Centre in 2001, the State Sector Amendment Act (No 2) 2004 and the Crown Entities Act 2004 extended the role of the Commissioner beyond the Public Service to the wider State Services (such as Crown entities, but not Crown Research Institutes), and beyond State Services to the wider state sector.[6]

List of past Commissioners

Name Took Office Left Office Title
Donald Robertson ISO19131919Public Service Commissioner
William R. Morris CMG ISO19201923Public Service Commissioner
Paul D. N. Verschaffelt CMG19231935Public Service Commissioner
John H. Boyes CMG19361938Public Service Commissioner (Joint)
Thomas Mark19361941Public Service Commissioner (Joint until 1938)
John H. Boyes CMG19411946Public Service Commissioner
Richard M. Campbell CMG19461953Chairman of the Public Service Commission
George T. Bolt CMG19531958Chairman of the Public Service Commission
Leonard A. Atkinson19581962Chairman of the Public Service Commission
Leonard A. Atkinson19631966Chairman of the State Services Commission
Adrian G. Rodda CMG19671970Chairman of the State Services Commission
Ian G. Lythgoe CB19711974Chairman of the State Services Commission
Dr. Robin M. Williams CB. CBE. MA. PHD HONLLD19751981Chairman of the State Services Commission
Dr. Mervyn Probine CBE-MSC PhD (LDS) FIP FRSNZ.19811985Chairman of the State Services Commission
Dr. Roderick Deane KNZM19851986Chairman of the State Services Commission
Don Hunn CNZM19861987Chairman of the State Services Commission
Don Hunn CNZM19881988Chief Commissioner of the State Services Commission
Don Hunn CNZM19891997State Services Commissioner
Michael Wintringham CNZM19972004State Services Commissioner
Dr. Mark Prebble CNZM20042008State Services Commissioner
Iain Rennie CNZM20082016State Services Commissioner
Peter Hughes CNZM[5]2016PresentState Services Commissioner

Deputy Commissioner

The State Sector Act establishes the position of Deputy State Services Commissioner, who is appointed on the same terms and conditions as the Commissioner.

Ministers of State Services

Colour key
(for political parties)
 National    Labour  
No. Name Portrait Term of Office Prime Minister
1 Keith Holyoake 20 December 1963 9 February 1972 Holyoake
2 Jack Marshall 9 February 1972 8 December 1972 Marshall
3 Bob Tizard 8 December 1972 10 September 1974 Kirk
4 Arthur Faulkner 10 September 1974 12 December 1975 Rowling
5 Peter Gordon 12 December 1975 13 December 1978 Muldoon
6 David Thomson 13 December 1978 26 July 1984
7 Stan Rodger 26 July 1984 9 February 1990 Lange
8 Clive Matthewson 9 February 1990 2 November 1990
9 Bill Birch 2 November 1990 29 November 1993 Bolger
10 Paul East 29 November 1993 16 December 1996
11 Jenny Shipley 16 December 1996 12 September 1997
(10) Paul East 12 September 1997 8 December 1997
12 Simon Upton 8 December 1997 10 December 1999 Shipley
13 Trevor Mallard 10 December 1999 19 October 2005 Clark
14 Annette King 19 October 2005 2 November 2007
15 David Parker 5 November 2007 19 November 2008
16 Tony Ryall 19 November 2008 13 December 2011 Key
17 Jonathan Coleman 14 December 2011 8 October 2014
18 Paula Bennett 8 October 2014 26 October 2017
19 Chris Hipkins 26 October 2017 Incumbent Ardern

See also


  1. "Total Appropriations for Each Vote". Budget 2019. The Treasury.
  2. "State Sector Act 1988". New Zealand Legislation. Parliamentary Counsel Office.
  3. "Four Year Plan 2015-2019". State Services Commission. 22 June 2015.
  4. State Services Commissioner – the Office, State Services Commission, Last updated 28 June 2002 (appears to have been updated more recently though)
  5. Kirk, Stacey (3 May 2016). "Education boss Peter Hughes named as new State Services Commissioner". Retrieved 30 September 2016.
  6. Role of the State Services Commissioner, State Services Commission, Last updated 31 March 2008
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