Dear Editor

This week I attended my offspring’s graduation in Wellington. I sat through one of Victoria University’s 3-hour-long ceremonies. It should have been about the kids graduating, but the first 30–40 minutes were dedicated to honouring the recently retired State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes. He was on stage, and Chancellor John Allen made a long, fawning speech that included at least one snide reference to the new Government which he called ‘the current political demagogues’. Hughes was then awarded an honorary Doctorate of Literature. Just for doing his very well-paid job. Which in itself is depressing, and an insult to the young adults actually graduating who actually worked and earned their degrees.

But then it got worse. Hughes spoke in reply, taking up more of the young adults’ moment of glory. And this is the really depressing bit – he was bland, mealy-mouthed, uninspiring. The consummate ‘grey man’. But from his speech, I learnt he had graduated from Vic with a BA – the same lofty degree as our useless recent ex-finance minister Robertson. This just shows you how if you play it safe and never rock the boat you can rise above your level of competence and sit there forever. And even collect an honorary doctorate. 

Which brings me back to my job. I work in a public hospital. It took six years of medical school, then twelve more years of work and difficult specialty exams to qualify. Every day I make on-the-spot decisions about patient treatment. Yet I have to deal with middle managers who have no authority to make decisions, and every issue gets referred ‘up the tree’. There are multiple layers of these non-decisives in my hospital, all scared of rocking the boat and upsetting the next senior manager. And the most senior local manager is scared of upsetting the layers of similar managers in the centralised Te Whatu Ora head office in Wellington. And those layers of indecisives are all scared of upsetting someone as mediocre and middle-of-the-road as Peter Hughes.

I can see now why the people that actually know what needs to change, cannot make change. The skilled coalface nurses, doctors, and radiographers are up against the indecisive class who never rock the boat and nothing changes. 

It is like wading through thick mud with no end result.

But it was a Road to Damascus moment. I now know what I am up against. And the new Government is up against it too. A massive clear out of the public service is long overdue.

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