ANZSOG Executive Master of Public Administration lessons help Naomi Stephen-Smith protect vulnerable tenants

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  • Published Date: 02 November 2020

Nearly 600,000 Aotearoa-New Zealand households are renting, and research has highlighted that the country’s rental housing is often of poorer quality than owner-occupied homes. Closing the disparity between the living standards of tenants and homeowners has been the impetus behind the Government’s new Healthy Homes standards that apply to all rental properties in Aotearoa-New Zealand.

The Healthy Homes standards are overseen by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development and have been a positive initiative says Naomi Stephen-Smith, Manager, Tenures and Housing Quality within the Ministry, and a graduate of ANZSOG’s Executive Master of Public Administration (EMPA).

Ms Stephen Smith says the standards cover heating, insulation, ventilation, moisture ingress and drainage and draught-stopping and all focus on raising the quality of life for the men, women and children who call a rental property home.

“We’ve also just completed a significant reform to the Residential Tenancies Act that looks to improve security of tenure for renters. It removes the ability for landlords to simply terminate a tenancy without stating a reason. Instead, landlords must use one of the reasons specified in the new legislation,” says Naomi.

“I took over managing this team during the Stage Four lockdown due to COVID and it has been a highlight of my career so far to manage an amazing team of people who’ve been dedicated to doing the work of the government at a challenging time.”

Naomi has spent most of her professional life working within government in Aotearoa-New Zealand. She also spent six years as a Senior Policy Advisor with the Department of Human Services and the Department of Premier and Cabinet in Victoria.

But after studying arts and social sciences at the University of Wellington, Naomi spent a year travelling through North America and Europe before arriving in Tanzania to help a family doing development work.

Returning home to Wellington, she took on an admin role with a not-for-profit before joining the public service.

“I was interested in how government policies have an impact and can make a difference. I have a strong social justice motivation and I want to make life better for people who are struggling and who haven’t had the same opportunities as me,” she says.

“My first government role was as a policy advisor in the Department of Labour and I worked on a review of the Health and Safety in Employment Act, looking at whether flight attendants and air crews were adequately covered in terms of their health and safety requirements.”

After working as a Private Secretary in a Minister’s office, Naomi moved to Melbourne seeking a change of scenery and new challenges before returning to Wellington and working at the Department of Corrections, the Ministry of Social Development and Ministry of Defence before joining the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development in 2020.

“There is always something interesting going on in government because, regardless of where we live or what we do for a living, government has a big impact on our lives,” she says.

“Take roads, street lighting, public transport, education and health. The role of government in ensuring these things are accessible to the population is very important. I’m interested in the changes that can be made at smaller levels and at structural levels that make society work better for everybody.”

In 2009, while working in Victoria, Naomi began her EMPA.

“When I was in my first policy role, I saw a brochure about the program, and I knew it would help me become a better public servant and would round out my experience. So, when I was in Victoria and was invited to think about undertaking a leadership program, the EMPA came up in conversation,” says Naomi.

Throughout her various roles in the public sector, Naomi has drawn on components of the EMPA. She highlights the focus on defining public value and the ‘strategic triangle’ and questions it poses remain relevant:

What’s the public value we’re creating?

Where are the legitimacy and support going to come from?

What kind of operational capacity do we need to deliver it?

“That framework has stayed in the back of my mind when I am commissioning work or when I am focusing on a piece of work,” she says.

“And I’ve applied what I learned in the public sector economics component of the program. I hadn’t done economics since I was 14 years old and it was my least favourite subject at school but doing that course within the EMPA was helpful in engaging with Treasury and understanding economic frameworks, the language that economists use, like subsidies and market distortion, and the meaning behind that language. Now I am thinking about those things in relation to the housing market so the EMPA has helped me understand and conceptualise many things.”

While her return to Aotearoa-New Zealand meant Naomi lost contact with many of the students who completed the EMPA with her, she says there’s often an instant connection between ANZSOG alumni.

“When you come across EMPA graduates there is that shared experience of the joy and pain of it! It is a challenging thing to do on top of working full-time but I would always recommend it because its breadth means everyone can learn something from it.”

Naomi is now looking ahead to her next management opportunity within the public service in Aotearoa-New Zealand and she plans to stay within the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development.

“I will stay within Housing and Urban Development,” she says.

“This is a great place to work and there is still plenty of stuff to be done.” 

Find out more about ANZSOG’s Foundation Programs

Executive Master of Public Administration (EMPA)

A part-time postgraduate qualification developed and delivered by ANZSOG exclusively for high-performing public sector managers.

Executive Fellows Program (EFP)

A three-week program challenging 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 two-week 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.