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ANZSOG alumni profile: Dave Samuels building a strong Māori voice in the public service

21 November 2022

News and media


Image of ANZSOG alumni Dave Samuels

Since ANZSOG was founded in 2002, thousands of public servants have benefited from our programs and courses. Many have gone on to senior and highly influential positions in public services across Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand. To celebrate ANZSOG’s 20 years of working with our owner governments to strengthen the quality of public sector leadership in Australia, this series of profiles looks at the achievement of our alumni, why they chose the public sector as a career, their views on how to lead and the importance of having a high-quality values-driven public service. 


As Secretary for Māori Development, Dave Samuels is acutely aware of the responsibilities and expectations that rest on his shoulders. But as a seasoned public service leader, he shoulders those responsibilities well. 

The concept of serving his country and community has been an enduring and important part of his life and playing a leading role in Indigenous policy development in Aotearoa New Zealand was a long-held goal.  

After a 25-year stint in the New Zealand Army, Dave carefully planned his transition to the public service and he has held a number of roles that have taken him overseas and into diverse fields. But it is perhaps his current role leading Te Puni Kōkiri, the Ministry of Māori Development, that is particularly rewarding. 

“Because of the disparities and inequities, it is more important now than ever before that there is a strong Māori voice in the public service. Māori, as citizens of Aotearoa New Zealand, should receive the services and respect from the public service that they need and deserve,” he says. 

“If you look at the wellbeing of the Indigenous population of Aotearoa New Zealand, there are disparities and inequities in health, housing, education, and justice. For example, Māori make up 16% of the population but the male prison population is 52% Māori and the female prison population is 66% Māori. 

“There has to be a capable Māori Ministry with a capable executive leadership team and well-led and focused and motivated staff to deliver effective and equitable public service for Māori and to change 182 years of colonisation and history.” 

While the role is challenging, Dave’s extensive and wide-ranging involvement in public service has equipped him with the insight and experience to navigate those challenges with his team. 

The desire to serve began as a 17-year-old when he joined the Army, following in the footsteps of his father and other family members. He grew up in army camps around Aotearoa New Zealand before going to the former St Stephen’s school, a renowned Māori boys’ boarding school. 

“A good number of Māori leaders came through the school – many former students are now tribal leaders or have been Ministers,” says Dave. 

“While I was at St Stephen’s, my father died and after I left school, I didn’t really have the means to go to university and I joined the Army. That was really to provide some respite for my mother who was on a widow’s pension and I had a sister at high school and another sister at teachers college. My time in the Army definitely had an influence with regards to a commitment to service, integrity, identifying your limits and learning how to push through those.” 

At 18, Dave was sent offshore to Singapore and during his Army career he saw operational service in the Middle East, Bougainville and East Timor. But after 25 years, he decided it was time for the next stage in his career. 

“By the time I left I’d done four operational deployments in different circumstances across the world and I’d become an officer. I’d experienced everything within the Army that I’d set out to experience,” he says.  

Aware of the sometimes difficult experience of transitioning to civilian life, Dave began planning his future pathway while still serving in the Army. He completed a Master’s degree in Defence and Strategic Studies from Massey University, choosing electives that gave him a deeper understanding of policy and Māori development. 

“The military has its own culture and I was very deliberate in my transitioning out of the Army. My aim was to go into indigenous policy development and I positioned my degree around that. But you do take a leap when you leave the Defence Force – the world outside is more unfamiliar than it is going offshore into an operational setting,” he says. 

Dave moved on to hold policy and leadership roles at the Department of Corrections, the Ministry for Primary Industries and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. He represented the New Zealand Government in the Middle East and China before becoming Secretary for Māori Development in 2019. He also completed an Executive Master of Public Administration (EMPA) with ANZSOG.  

“The service offshore in the military gave me an appreciation of what service means at a focused level and illustrated the reality of service in difficult situations, and the EMPA demonstrated the concept of delivering public value and how to frame that,” he says. 

He and the Ministry of Māori Development operate in ‘an extremely exposed space, with high expectations.’ That exposed space may be in the political domain, in the media, within the Māori community or the mainstream community.  

“All Secretaries across the public service have that experience, but in the Māori space I think it is magnified,” he says. 

But he has clear ideas as to what needs to change and to be accomplished to increase equity for the Māori communities across Aotearoa New Zealand and to bolster Māori economic and business development.  

“In the 1970s there was a ‘Māori renaissance’ and recognition that we needed to move away from assimilation policies and move forward proudly as Māori. We needed legislation, regulation and innovation to enable that,” says Dave. 

“I think there are three system changes that are important moving forward. Firstly, the primary unit within Māori society is the whānau. The closest English word is ‘family’ but it’s an extended family and a system that recognises the collective as well as the individual is necessary for the wellbeing of Māori people. 

“Secondly, we need to focus on delivering through the community. Māori trust and confidence in the public service is not as high as it is for other New Zealanders and that is partly to do with 182 years of colonisation. So how do we harness the value of community to deliver services because they are a trusted face? 

“Finally, rather than focusing on a provider-funder relationship with the communities, how do we enter into a commissioning arrangement where we commission for outcomes as opposed to delivering quite specific individualised services?” 

In terms of key qualities that public sector leaders need to deliver public value, Dave nominates being able to ‘stay the course’ and serve the government of the day to your best ability.  

“You have to have that commitment and to be able to steward. Operating in an exposed space with high expectations, you have to be able to steward through what is right no matter what you are facing,” he says.  

He’d like to be remembered as a public servant who ‘served and was focused on service’.  

Away from the pressures of his role, Dave finds release in the sea and he dives with friends. 

“We have boats and dive and hunt for crayfish, pāua [abalone] and kina [sea urchin]. I find that very therapeutic. It’s quiet under the sea and you can be focused,” he says. 

“I think there’s also recognition that there is an element of danger and that reminds you there is more to this life than just your job. And we get kaimoana [seafood] – delicacies that the older members of our community especially enjoy. I suppose it’s a hunter-gatherer thing and has to do with how we see our different roles within whānau. My role in our whānau is as a provider, particularly of seafood. I enjoy that role and it is also about service.” 

Find out more about ANZSOG’s Foundation Programs

Executive Master of Public Administration (EMPA)

A two-year part-time postgraduate qualification developed and delivered by ANZSOG exclusively for emerging and ambitious public sector leaders.

Executive Fellows Program (EFP) 

A program that challenges senior public service executives working in the public domain to develop new leadership perspectives in a contemporary and highly interactive setting. 

Towards Strategic Leadership (TSL) 

A unique program that helps public service leaders develop the qualities needed to thrive in a senior executive role: a strategic outlook, political astuteness, personal resilience and the ability to reflect and learn continuously. 

Deputies Leadership Program 

A program designed for new Deputies in the public sector with a focus on frank conversations with practitioners and helping participants to grow their understanding of their leadership styles, their drivers and their aspirations – and building resilience to lead with integrity.