Community Scoop

Let’s do this – better

Brenda Pilott
National Manager
Social Service Providers AotearoaBrenda photo

Moving from Opposition to Government is a major life change for any politician (and so is moving in the opposite direction).  New and mainly first-time ministers are settling in to their new roles, swotting up on the Cabinet manual, appointing new staff, absorbing reams of briefing papers, facing an endless stream of requests for meetings, and getting the wheels turning on their policy plans.

Driving home late one evening last week, I noticed the lights on in virtually every office in the Beehive, and no doubt the advisors and their ministers are working hard and long hours.  And rightly so.  This coalition government has won the reins of power possibly to the surprise of some of them, and after nine long years in opposition, this supremely interesting coalition now has the chance to make things happen.

For those of us who work with government from the outside, it’s also a rather novel feeling that some of the things we propose might actually happen.  It’s good to feel some energy again in the community sector for creating fresh thinking about important issues like social investment, which, by the way, I strongly hope will get re-named to signal that we don’t see social spending in an actuarial way and we don’t regard our fellow citizens who need support as being a drain on the nation’s balance sheet.  It’s time to de-marketise our social services.

There is a strong willingness in the community sector to make the relationship between government and community work well.  There have been various approaches over the years, ranging from high minded statements through to blunt contractualism.  Both ends of that spectrum miss the point.  It’s to everyone’s benefit to have meaningful engagement at the point where ideas and policies are being formed.

Making this work will require some courage on the part of government and the public service to loosen their grip on public debate.  I don’t want to see Cabinet papers only after all the decisions have been made. I want to know what ideas are being considered and to have timely input to those.

Government openness and transparency seem important when you’re in opposition, but the perspective from the Beehive is very different.  Managing risk becomes all-important.  Having seen numerous changes of government, I can attest that this is a feature of all parties.

I have many hopes for this new government.  One of them is that they set a new standard for dialogue, communication and openness. There are many citizens and organisations with great ideas to contribute. I’d like to see them get a real chance.

This blog has been contributed by a member of the ComVoices network

ComVoices is a Wellington based network of national community and voluntary sector organisations. It was established so that sector organisations would have a more powerful voice at Government level and in the community.

Click here for our website:


  1. liz pennington, 6. December 2017, 10:55

    Insightful comments Brenda

  2. Marti Eller, 6. December 2017, 20:09

    Great column, Brenda. Hope it comes true