Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Bureaucracy, Democracy and Westminster: The Quest for Political Control

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Version 2 2022-03-21, 00:54
Version 1 2021-11-08, 08:44
posted on 2022-03-21, 00:54 authored by Somers, Jean-Christopher

This thesis argues that a Weberian process of bureaucratisation poses a serious threat in itself to the central values and ideals of liberal democracy. Such a threat arises not only from the bureaucratic pathology of 'goal displacement' of substantive ends by instrumental means, but also, because of this pathology, its tendency to mask and embed ideological challenges to liberal democracy. An effective liberal political constitution is therefore necessary to maintain the democratic control of bureaucracy while exploiting the efficiency benefits of bureaucratic administration. Such a political constitution is in fact contained in the Westminster tradition of liberal constitutionalism, based on the principles of parliamentary sovereignty, ministerial responsibility and political neutrality. Through this theoretical lens, the thesis proceeds to examine the trajectory of public sector reforms against the changing political contexts in New Zealand over the past 20 years and its constitutional implications. The NPM reforms in New Zealand, whether intended or unintended, displaced the political and constitutional safeguards implicit in the traditional model of public service with managerial norms which simultaneously serve to embed the neoliberal ideology. Despite the claim of NPM reformers to control bureaucracy, the paradoxical effects of the reform have been to accelerate the process of bureaucratisation and attenuate democratic control. Recent initiatives aimed to address some apparent weaknesses of NPM, have not changed the fundamentals of the managerial system, and thus fail to reverse this trend of declining democratic control of bureaucratic power. A reassertion of the fundamental norms of the Westminster system is recommended to arrest this decline of liberal democracy.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Public Policy

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Commerce and Administration

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Government


Gregory, Bob