I must confess to not having bothered with all the manufactured outrage over Madeleine Setchell's firing (or not-hiring) or whatever it was. After all, who cares if another bureaucrat gets sacked? If I had my way, around half-a-million of the buggers would swiftly be feeling a cold wind blowing through their salary package and working conditions, so one poor example of the especies feeling the sting of the Spanish archer is hardly something about which to take to the streets.
Nonetheless I did take some notice yesterday since, while political turmoil is all around in the form of urgent bills on Electoral Finance and Terrorism Suppression, speaker Margaret Wilson allowed a snap debate in Parliament on the whole affair -- and such an allowance from Speaker Wilson is such a rare occurrence that unicorns were spotted in Lambton Quay last time she gave her consent to such a departure. (Indeed, only Tuesday an urgent debate into the Decision of the Solicitor General [video] not to charge twelve people with terror offences was refused by this speaker)
Clearly then, the notion of the "political independence of the public service" is given some weight in the corridors of power. It's not, however, one that it possible to take seriously.
As Colin Espiner points out, "New Zealand just isn’t big enough to have the sort of politicised public service operated in countries such as the United States, where changes of governments lead to thousands of public servants losing their jobs." But this is only a partial answer, since the proper response is that if New Zealand just isn’t big enough to have the sort of politicised public service operated in countries such as the United State, then it's time New Zealand set out to have a markedly smaller public service -- and a very good thing that would be for all productive people, I can tell you.
Even the UK, whose model supposedly provides our own, bureaucrats are about as "independent" in their work as Yes Minister's Humphrey Appleby.
So until that happy time of cold winds and a rapidly shrinking pool of grey ones comes about, let's stop pretending that the bureaucracy is "politically independent." No bureaucrat can fail to have a political position, even if it's only the basic instinct of every bureaucrat to ensure that the natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and the public service to gain ground -- a position for which they will find abundant support from virtually every incumbent parliamentary party, which is what not doubt ensures the "independence" of the grey ones.
And let's note, as I did yesterday, the most important thing to emerge from this whole waste of column inches, which is this: that the reason Madeleine Setchell was fired (or not-hired) from the Environment Ministry was because the Environment Ministry was ramping up for a big advertising push in election year in support of government policies on "sustainability," and since she was she was sleeping with a Tory her loyalties might not be altogether in the right place to conduct such a partisan campaign on behalf of the Labour Party.
The firing, in other words, was party political, just as next year's campaign by the Ministry will be.
It rather highlights the iniquity of the Clark Government's pair of bills to gag electoral opponents while giving them open access to the taxpayers' wallet and the promotional resources of government departments. That issue is really the only one of importance to be raised in this 'Setchell' affair. That is really where media attention should be paid, not to this fiction of political independence.
Like I say, there's no other reason to pay any attention to the sacking of another bureaucrat. At any other time it would be something to celebrate. Madelein Setchell is no more important in the Setchell affair than Captain Albert Dreyfus was in the Dreyfus Affair. What's important is what their experience exposes.