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ANZSOG recognises Peter Hughes’s career of service

21 February 2024

News and media


ANZSOG wishes to acknowledge the career of former ANZSOG Board Chair Peter Hughes, who will retire from his role as New Zealand Public Service Commissioner on 29 February, after seven years in the position and more than 40 years in the public service.

Mr Hughes was ANZSOG Board Chair from 2017 to November 2020, leading the Board through the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

His wisdom and leadership were highly valued by ANZSOG, and his successor as Board Chair, Peter Woolcott, said that: “Peter Hughes skilfully led ANZSOG through a time of great change. He has ensured this strong institution has maintained, and built upon, its core role of helping public servants develop the skills and knowledge they need to deliver for all Australians and New Zealanders”.

Mr Hughes announced his retirement last year in the lead-up to New Zealand’s general election.

“It has been the privilege of my life to serve as Public Service Commissioner,” said Mr Hughes.

“I personally thank every public servant who has chosen public service as their career. I truly believe it is a noble thing to choose to serve your country and your fellow citizens. Every single public servant has my respect and my gratitude.”

Mr Hughes was farewelled at an official function in Wellington on 20 February, which brought together senior figures in Aotearoa New Zealand’s political and public sector world’s to pay tribute to his career.

The farewell was addressed by New Zealand Prime Minister Christopher Luxon who said that Mr Hughes had embodied integrity and political neutrality in his work.

“Peter is a public servant who knows how to square the circle, knows how to combine analysis with persuasion, and knows how to merge vision with reality. He has also upheld standards of integrity and accountability when things go wrong. Everyone here will be familiar with the Hughes-ism ‘own it, fix it, learn from it’,” he said.

Prime Minister Luxon noted that that Mr Hughes had steered through the most sweeping changes to the New Zealand Public Service since 1988 and had brought together the leaders of the Public Service as one team, working in unison to tackle the big issues facing New Zealand.

The reforms contained in New Zealand’s Public Service Act 2020 have been an influence on the thinking of current Australian Public Sector Commissioner Gordon de Brouwer, as outlined in this article.

Encouraging a spirit of service

The principle of service runs through Mr Hughes’s career, along with his belief in the role of an independent public service as a vital part of the constitutional architecture that supports democratic governments in Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand.

While serving as Board Chair, Mr Hughes delivered ANZSOG’s Paterson Oration in Sydney in 2018. He spoke on the theme of ‘the spirit of service’ which unites people who chose to work in the public sector as a way of serving their community.

“I believe that public service is something we should acknowledge, celebrate and reward,” Mr Hughes said in the Oration.

“In my years of public service, I’ve felt a lot of things – frustrated, disappointed, disillusioned even – but never once have I felt that it wasn’t worthwhile.

“Underpinning everything and propelling it forward is the spirit of service. Our first and last responsibility as public service leaders is to support, protect and nurture that spirit in the people who give expression to it every day, every week.

“They deserve that from us, and they also deserve a public service system that enables that spirit to be translated into the better services and outcomes that they are so very motivated to deliver.”

Mr Hughes has devoted his career to public service, starting as a clerk at the Department of Social Welfare. He was promoted through policy and operational leadership positions before entering executive level management in the New Zealand Income Support Service.

He was Chief Executive at the Ministry of Social Development for ten years, and before that was Secretary for Internal Affairs, Chief Executive of the Health Funding Authority and Deputy Director-General of Health.

Before joining the Public Sector Commission, he served as Secretary for Education for three years from 2013. Prior to this, he was Professor of Public Management and Head of the School of Government at Victoria University of Wellington from 2011.

ANZSOG wishes Peter all the best for the future and thanks him for his service to us as an organisation and to the public service of New Zealand.