Fresh start needed for many in Government

Last updated 12:00 12/01/2013

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A new year brings the chance for a fresh start, a makeover, an opportunity to put right past wrongs.

ACC is an organisation with more reason than most to take this approach after a calamitous 2012.

The privacy scandal where details of thousands of ACC clients were mailed to a claimant led to independent reviews that raised big questions about the agency's culture, in particular over its management of private information.

There was at times an "almost cavalier" attitude toward clients, with a focus on breaches and complaints rather than emphasising respect for claimants and their details, one review found.

As Privacy Commissioner, Marie Shroff, points out, public sector agencies collect large volumes of information from citizens compelled to provide it. In return, people should expect to be able to trust that their details will be protected.

The news this week that ACC is considering establishing a training academy for staff is a welcome start to the new year.

A tender document for the proposal says the academy will have an "emphasis on a client-centred approach".

You would have thought that's what the agency should be about anyway, but job specific training should be beneficial to both staff and clients.

ACC Minister Judith Collins set new priorities for the organisation in the middle of last year, including rebuilding public trust and confidence. With new board members and a new approach there is hope it can meet that goal.

Perhaps other government departments can take a similar path, starting with the Ministry of Education.

It had an even worse battering than ACC last year, with controversies over class sizes, the shake-up of Christchurch schools, the Novopay debacle and the unlawful closure of Richmond's Salisbury School.

It culminated with the abrupt resignation of education secretary Lesley Longstone last month after her relationship with minister Hekia Parata broke down.

Despite a vote of confidence from Prime Minister John Key before Christmas, Ms Parata may not have had the most comfortable of holidays ahead of the expected Cabinet reshuffle in the next few weeks.

It's difficult to see how she can repair frayed relationships with the education sector and the wider public that won't be erased by the summer break.

For a Government that took a high number of political hits last year, having a clean slate of a new minister and new education secretary in one of its most troubling portfolios must be an appealing proposition.

It would also give Ms Parata a chance to regroup in a role with a lower public profile.

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Other government departments that need a makeover include the Government Communications Security Bureau, tarnished after its role in the Kim Dotcom affair. Its secretive nature will limit any marketing offensive, but taxpayers will at least want an assurance that it is acting within its powers.

The string of troubles last year have raised uncomfortable questions about the competence of government agencies and their ministerial oversight.

Mr Key is due to start the political year in Antarctica, one of the cleanest slates on the planet.

The prime minister will be hoping he and his Government can have a similarly fresh start, rather than just a cold one.

- The Nelson Mail

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