Friday, November 18, 2005

Public Sector Excess Award: MSD

This morning I went looking for the Ministry of Social Development's briefing to the Incoming Government, following media reports that the MSD has now taken upon itself to be the Government's principal adviser--not on welfare issues--but on public health issues as well. I was curious as to how it came about that the MSD had taken on such a role.

So I visit the site. I look at media releases. And what do I find?

Nothing about the Ministry's briefing to the incoming government, I'm afraid. Well, it is there, but it's not displayed through the normal information channels. I might have thought that as a key policy adviser, that their PR person might have made it a high priority.

But apparently the MSD's public relations person has other priorities.

Or should I say, the MSD's PR machine. Because it is a frigging huge machine.

That is The Ministry of Social Development has three Wellington-based public relations advisers. Fair enough, I think. It's a big Government department. Three people is precisely triple as existed in 1999, even under the self-promoting extremes of Christine Rankin.

But I hadn't quite hit the mark, chaps and chapettes. Because in addition to the three media advisers based in Wellington, the Ministry of Social Development has ELEVEN regional public relations lackeys on their payroll. Fourteen spin-nurses lactating from the public breast. This is supposedly part of the high-value government expenditure that is more important than your tax cut.

Don't believe me? Then have a look here. Count them. Better still, if you, like me, run out of fingers at ten, I've listed them here.

Bronwyn Saunders Chief Media Advisor

Jane Mortlock Media Advisor

Northland Clare Blackburn

Auckland Aidan Richards

Auckland Amelia Cairns

Waikato Irving Young

Bay Of Plenty Julie Hill

Taranaki Gail Bennett

East Coast Calvin Robinson

Central Jacqui Ferrel

Wellington Mel Collier

Nelson Jill Harris

Canterbury Amanda Cook

Southern Juliet Smith

Yes. That makes fourteen of them. To give you an insight, that is three times larger than the DominionPost's entire full-time political contingent in the Press Gallery. From one government department.

And what kind of self-congratulatory trash do they put out? Apart from the grand total of fifteen press releases that the entire PR team has issued in the last year, have a look at this Pulitzer-winning piece: a newsletter about how some people were hired through Work and Income to station the tills in a supermarket, and a particularly scintillating gem about a Work and Income Case Manager who "teaches paper-making and card-making and how to make photo frames."

This is what your taxes are paying for. Oh, and if you were looking for the MSD's briefing, it's here. They do mention that the Government needs to "consider new pricing and tax initiatives around tobacco and alcohol". The numbers they use to justify it--that eighteen percent of all deaths in New Zealand are caused by tobacco smoking--aren't supported by the Ministry of Health--the Government's delegated principal public health adviser. MoH puts the same death rate at seventeen percent. A minor quibble, but MoH doesn't mention tax changes to reduce tobacco or alcohol consumption. Nor does Treasury or the IRD--the Government's principal tax policy advisers.

So what precisely is the MSD playing at? It really does sound rather like a stalking-horse for filling Government coffers even higher, presumably because the MSD needs the funds to ensure that some currently unemployed people in Northland get jobs working as PR advisers for the Ministry.


Flash said...


First of all, why are you posting so early in the morning? I would have expected a man with your social commitments to have to sleep until midday to wear it all off.

Second, I would like to take this opportunity to defend the MSD media advisors. You might be surprised to know that, far from all being frumpy uptight manhaters, at least two of them are quite comely young lasses who add to the joy of nations. If my tax money has to be wasted, I am glad for it to be used subsidising their presence at meetings I go to.


Anonymous said...


I think that Prick's just jealous that he wasn't invited to the meetings...

Anonymous said...

For such an amount of PR people their output seems a little lacking. In the 7 years that I've worked as a journo in Canterbury I think I have seen maybe 1 or possibly two media releases from the inestimable Amanda Cook

Insolent Prick said...

No, I was just arriving back at work after a bender.

That stunning piece of political analysis was booze-fuelled.

Cathy Odgers said...

Excellent Prick.

Did you pick the morning paper up at Star Mart on your way home and read it at your desk this morning?

Agh...the memories. You will be pretty tired about now but..

Time to refuel for Friday night. If you have your own office you can kip under the desk. That is the bastard with open plan.

No rest for the wicked.

Anonymous said...

Actually taxation on alcohol and tobacco have long been policies of MoH - both increase each year automatically. MSD mentions it all because they are meant to lead the Opportunities For All framework, a sort of social version of GIF, still, I was surprised it was them that raised it - or was it more just a media beat up (one of the reasons govt needs so many media people).

Theprophet said...

Bronwyn Saunders (along with her identical twin sister) was once the Otago Uni drinking champ and used to be a hellasish night out on the town type of girl. Which night? Oh any one will do.

Also not a bad pool shark.

Oh how the mighty have fallen.

Allah protect us.

Insolent Prick said...

Was not looking forward to the grind this morning. Then at lunchtime, a client calls and says: "I want to see you this afternoon for twenty minutes."

Being the well-prepared young lad that I am, I managed to tidy myself up, and the twenty minutes turned into two hours.

Tonight is a restful evening at the beach. A couple of the lads are coming over later for a few quiet ones, then a few more noisy ones.

Andy Soprano said...

Good work IP - another Gang of 14!

Something else about the MSD: If one listens to all their PR talk regarding the declining numbers of work-tested beneficiaries, then surely this mean less administrative work for staff - and therefore reduced numbers on the payroll.

How many WINZ offices have closed over the past couple of years? By how much has the department reduced employee costs?

Where is Cullen's so-called razor gang? They could cut eight figures off this bloated whale known as the MSD without anyone blinking an eye. C'mon boys, do it...

Anonymous said...

How can they be lactating though?

Anonymous said...

Great stuff IP.

Speaking of public sector excess, did you spot the full page recruitment add for NZQA in yesterdays Dom-Post?

A real doozey - half the page was taken up with a self promotion photo of the IT manager and a piece of PR fluff about how fantastic it is to work at NZQA.