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  • Ashleigh Putt-Fallows

You do not work for the government of the day.

Angrily Ranted by Ashleigh Putt-Fallows (she/her)

Ngāti Whātua, Ngāpuhi, Tūhoe

As I sit in a hui after the state opening of parliament, I contemplate my role as an advisor contracted to a ministry and as a young Māori woman. Then, I hear a sentence that will stay in my mind for weeks. “Remember, you work for the government of the day”.

This sentence creates immense rage in me. Here is why:

Firstly, I was contracted to work for the previous government. I can respect that governments can and do change and will keep a level of professionalism. I don’t have to like it nor do I have to agree with their new policy changes.

Second, the purpose of this sentence is generally to remind public service workers that they shouldn’t be blatantly biased for or against any particular party publicly, in a way that could come across as representing the view of whatever agency they work for. It’s not meant to apply as much to specific policy or to an individual sharing their political views; for some reason this is how it's being used. This usage limits the diversity of perspective that goes into policy. It repels people who can provide these perspectives, while creating bad working environments for those already in the space. A lack of diverse perspectives is detrimental to policy as it means what is put in place and enforced doesn’t actually reflect Aotearoa, our values and who we are as a nation.

Third, it is incredibly bad for one's mental health to be working in a space in which you are not only invalidated in your identity consistently but also told your opinion doesn’t matter because you choose to work a public service job. You should not be put under the amount of stress you are to provide for people who don’t provide for you.

Fourth, it is borderline undemocratic to tell people that they can’t criticize a government or its policies. Full Stop. It becomes even more so when people face consequences for their critique. Nobody should ever fear being fired or facing retaliation in the workplace for simply engaging in political discourse.

Fifth, I am a strong believer that once you become government anyone and everyone should be allowed to criticize your work. It's your job to represent us, not the poor intern, so do your job.

Sixth, personal expression of ideas is an important tool people use to understand, digest and deal with what is happening in the world. The civics space is no different. When removing that ability you're only putting your workers, and therefore yourself, at a disadvantage.

Seventh, people express themselves through their work and this is how they reflect their passions at times. If you are passionate about te taiao or youth work and decide helping at a policy level would be your contribution, you should not lose your ability to participate in wider discussions.

Look, I understand there is a need for the public service to be nonpartisan so that the government elected through our democracy can do their work, but it's equally important to remember these are people. Individuals with their own values, communities, opinions and identities that make that service who shouldn't have to sacrifice these for a job.

For me, I would like to make it very clear, I do not work for the government of the day, I work for people I am paid to represent and advise on behalf of. I work for youth, I work for rangatahi Māori. I will not sacrifice their voices to make adults elected into a positions of privilege feel better x


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