Labour's Chris Hipkins defends increasing public service workforce

  • 24/04/2024

Labour Party leader Chris Hipkins has stood by increasing the public service workforce during his time in government, saying it's been proportionate to the growth in population. 

The Coalition Government has directed the public services to cut costs by between 6.5 and 7.5 percent to help reduce annual public service spending by $1.5 billion. It's resulted in thousands of jobs proposed to be axed across the sector. 

The National Party has said it is trying to restore "financial discipline" with its cuts to the public service because the number of staff has ballooned under the previous Labour Government.  

Since Labour came to power in 2017, the number of public servants has increased by roughly one-third, up just under 18,500 to a total of 65,699 full-time equivalent staff at the end of 2023. 

However, Hipkins said the increase in public sector jobs was in response to New Zealand's rising population. According to Stats NZ, New Zealand's population has increased from just over 4.76 million at the end of 2016 to 5.3 million at the end of 2023. 

"The Government has been going on about the fact that there's all this fat in the system, the reality is that there isn't," he said while appearing on AM on Wednesday. 

Hipkins said the increase in government spending over the last six years under Labour has been proportionate to the increase in population and increase in pressure the public services have been under. 

"The size of the public sector workforce relative to the overall size of the workforce is actually slightly less than it was when we first became the government," he said. 

Hipkins also hit back at the notion the country can't afford increased staff in the public service. 

"The country is not broke. We have actually got some of the lowest government debt levels in the OECD," he told AM co-host Lloyd Burr.

He said New Zealand was in a "difficult part in the economic cycle" and now is not the time for tax cuts. He added the National Party was faced with this during the Global Financial Crisis and decided to cancel the tax cuts they had promised on the basis it wasn't the right time.  

"At the down point in the economic cycle, which is where we are at now, that is not the time to be dramatically cutting Government spending and cutting taxes," he said.  

"It is actually the time to consolidate, it's the time to focus on getting the government's books back in surplus, to minimise the amount that government is borrowing." 

Watch the full interview above.