Deep freeze for turtles and servants

By: Daniel Hutchinson

Daniel Hutchinson
From The Hutch

There’s been a lot of mixed messages from the government over the past week or so.

For starters, as if it’s not bad enough being called a servant in the first place, public servants are now being told they won’t be getting a pay increase for three years.

This started a rather bizarre series of talks between Government ministers and the unions. The unions of course love the Labour Party but love their members even more.

They were less than convinced when Grant Robertson told them not to worry about it, it’s a cost cutting measure and people will still get a pay rise if they are on a graduated pay scale, they earn less than $60,000 a year or there is an exceptional reason why they should have a pay rise, whatever that means. Covid maybe?

The pay scale itself will not go up, regardless of how much you get paid to be the same kind of servant overseas so the fear is that we may land up with no servants at all.

So Jacinda had to step in and say exactly the same thing as Grant, which elicited more or less exactly the same response from the unions.

Now, being a public servant covers a fairly broad category – everyone from Treasury workers, who just sound like they roll around in piles of cash all day, to nurses, which everybody loves unless they had a bad experience with one.

The budget will be delivered on Thursday next week, provided Treasury officials can now be bothered getting out of bed to do the paperwork. It’s not like there’s a reward for doing a good job.

Anyway, where the confusion lies is that the Government is prone to throwing money around from time to time on various unusual things.


For example, DOC and Te Papa recently spent $11,742 transporting a dead 350kg leatherback turtle (honu) around the country after a communication mix-up with a Canterbury hapu.

It all started when the dead turtle washed up on a beach in Banks Peninsula in March 2019. These turtles are quite impressive, especially when they are alive, but also, as it turns out, quite sacred as well. It is a taniwha, or guiding deity for the hapu of the area.

It’s a pity few people were aware of this before, with the agreement of the local marae and Te Papa and DOC, the turtle was whisked to away to Te Papa in Wellington to be analysed and skeletonised.

Before long, everyone did become aware of how important this particular type of turtle is and in December last year it was finally repatriated and buried appropriately in a cave, under an island by local iwi. The ceremony was also attended by seven DOC staff and seven Te Papa staff and a few grand was spent on a helicopter.

The Taxpayers Union is decrying this as a waste of tax payer’s money. The Department of Conservation and Te Papa are more than happy however, saying it was the right thing to do and money well spent because they now have a very strong relationship with iwi in the area.

Given how much money the government spends on public relations (public servants) to convince people how right they are about all sorts of things this new tactic of spending money in order to own a cock-up is quite refreshing.


If building strong relationships is as easy as doing the wrong thing and then making it right, the Government might be onto a winner with quite a few of its latest policies, including the pay freeze for public servants. The John Key Government made an art form out of this too.

I’ve never really thought I would be any good at PR because I tend to say the right thing at the wrong time or vice versa. However, if there is going to be a new Owning the Cock-up Department (OCD), then I feel like that’s an area where I could be a good servant.

Anyway, none of this matters because the Government has found an extra billion dollars that it thought it would need for the Covid recovery, but now it doesn’t.

It is going to reveal what is happening to this bonus billion at the budget next Thursday. I would have thought if it was originally allocated to the Covid recovery, and now you don’t need it, that maybe you don’t spend it.

But then, it’s not my money any more is it?