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Setting migrants up to succeed

An interview with John Chetwin, Department of Labour, by Anthony Haas
Experienced senior New Zealand government officials look forward to the days of 'a joined-up service', according to John Chetwin, who was New Zealand secretary for Labour until mid-2003.
Those days will have arrived when people can have their needs delivered by government agencies in a way that suits each person’s preference – without having to shop around agencies to find the service they need. The e-government portal – – is one of government's strategies for delivering 'joined -up' service.

'Meeting needs' focus

To explore the reasons we need such a service, John Chetwin and DecisionMaker publisher Anthony Haas considered a case study of a Korean businessman, coming here to set up a plant. How do government officials meet his needs? How could a more coherent – preferably proactive – response help to prevent problems?
Our mythical migrant comes here under the business migrant scheme. Therefore it is known in one part of the bureaucracy that he is here, and that he intends to run a business in New Zealand. He enters the country, finds suitable premises, hires staff and begins operations. His second confrontation with the New Zealand bureaucracy comes when a health and safety inspector closes down his plant because there are serious safety hazards.
The health and safety inspector has acted quite properly. But how could the situation have been avoided? Perhaps the immigration official could have facilitated introducing the immigrant to the other government agencies that would monitor, support and regulate his business. They could help ensure the business was set up in a way that did not run into problems.

Allow me to introduce ...

The first step would have been to facilitate introductory contact with the other services of the Department of Labour. 'Here is the Employment Relations Service. They will help you set up your employment relations, your contracts. They can tell you the way things are done here. Here is the Occupational Safety and Health Service to help you set up in a way that meets health and safety criteria. Here is Community Employment Group.'
Then there are other agencies that our migrant will need to know about in order to succeed in business in New Zealand. There is the Inland Revenue Department, helping ensure the tax payments are set up properly. The Ministry of Social Development could help with lower skilled labour supply. The local authority in the area he settles could acquaint him with, say, Resource Management Act issues, and how they are best approached in that particular region.
Finally, the new migrant may need support in linking with non-government agencies, such as the Citizens Advice Bureau, or a church, or a group with cultural affinity to the migrant. Immigration Service offices should have networks with such groups.
If the region has an organisation like the Auckland Regional Migrant Resource Services Trust (ARMS) (supported by Auckland and Manukau cities), it may be the best place to facilitate the gathering of the government and non-government agencies, but the Immigration Service is still the first point of contact and therefore the agency to steer the migrant in the direction of the facilitating service.
Such an appoach to needs requires managing a relation-ship rather than doing a transaction. The two are quite different.
A transaction is completed when the person goes out the door with their visa. A relationship continues beyond giving the person what they've asked for; it requires ascertaining what they need and helping them to get it.

First point of contact

But what about when the migrant is from the Pacific Islands and may not pay the migrant levy? People from the Pacific Islands tend to have low incomes, and therefore the government feels it is not reasonable to expect them to contribute to the migrant levy. But that does not mean the Pacific migrants should be excluded from the service. The officials concerned should still deliver the service that is available.
If the official feels that the policy is unclear or should be changed – in this or any other case, they should go back to national office to say "I’m in this situation. The policy, guidelines or instructions are not clear. I think the need is ... ."
DecisionMaker wonders how hard an official should lean across boundaries to solve problems. "They should lean hard," says John Chetwin.

Circuit breaker

The roles of the Cabinet Minister and the head of the government agency, when a number of agencies are involved in a problem, is partly as circuit breaker.
Secretary of Labour John Chetwin says they should ensure that:
• the connections between the agencies are strongly built from the top down
• there is a clear understanding 'this is the way we will operate'
• there is a clear statement of expectations to staff that this is the way to proceed.


The most efficient problem solving, Chetwin believes, will be done at the local level. “It is much better it happens there rather than coming all the way to Wellington, and then goes across to another office, and back out again to the regional operation.” But there will always need to be circuit breakers, which will involve national office.

To make this work, a clear framework indicating the results expected (‘outcomes’ in the jargon) should be the foundation of the whole management framework of the organisation, and all members of the organisation should know the outcomes expected. But outcomes of other agencies, or of government as a whole, can also affect the way an organisation works. It isn’t as easy to find out about these. One of the resources Chetwin thinks we need is a place where officials can readily get information.


The government portal – – works well if the information is available. However, the portal does not store information, it only provides access to it if the information is displayed there by the agency concerned in a way that is accessible.

“I think that e-government provides potentially an enormously powerful tool to enable the kind of joined-up service we’ve been talking about,” Chetwin says. “E- government is not going to provide the service, but it is going to enable its provision. I can see the day, not that far away, (in some ways it is already there), where the ordinary public servant providing a service in their city or region, can provide service and access information from their desktop with a max of two or three clicks.”




A businessperson coming here from overseas may find a very different regulatory environment to the one left behind.






Samoan MP, Tuilepa Sailele (left) with Fiji MP Jonetani Kaukimoce at the 2002 Pacific forum.