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No. 30 (March 1960)
– 15 –


Although Mr Mortimer Sullivan's time as head of the Department of Maori Affairs was only brief, his contribution to Maori social advancement was far more considerable than this short period would suggest.

Much of his most valuable work was done in the background, in the years he was Assistant Secretary and occupied in overhauling departmental administration.

Since 1929, the Department has been given rapidly growing responsibilities, first in land development, then in housing and finally in welfare. It has become, from a comparatively small institution, one of the major departments of State, responsible for the expenditure of millions of pounds per year and employing a staff of about 800.

Over the first twenty years of this growth, the department substantially retained the type of organization that had gradually developed over the last and the beginning of the present century. The new activities were more or less grafted on the old stem.

Mr Sullivan's contribution since his appointment as Assistant Secretary in 1949 has been to reshape the department as a modern and efficient large business institution. Just what such reorganization involved it is hard to describe without going into a good deal of rather involved detail; to mention only one instance, the department until 1949 had no Manual of Instructions, which meant that there was no standard procedure for the department's work; it was done differently in each office.

Mr Sullivan began his public service career as a cadet in the Public Trust Office in January 1919 and spent half his span of service in that Department. Seconded in June 1940 to the National Service Department as Secretary of a Man-Power Committee, he joined the Army himself in February 1941. Returning in October, 1943, from service in the Middle East he became Private Secretary to the Minister of Rehabilitation, and a few months afterwards was appointed as Chief Clerk in the Rehabilitation Department, which was then rapidly expanding. In September, 1944, he was appointed Assistant Director of Rehabilitation, and in January, 1949, he came to the Department of Maori Affairs as Assistant Secretary, succeeding Mr T. T. Ropiha as Secretary and Maori Trustee in November, 1957.

As Assistant Secretary, Mr Sullivan was directly responsible for the organisation and management of the Department—the machinery side of things. Both then and in his later appointment as Secretary he was faced with manifold problems—increased decentralisation of activities (including the opening of offices at Whangarei and Christ-church and the removal of the Wellington office to Palmerston North), revision of the legislation affecting Maoris, and not least the changing conditions of Maoridom itself. On all these he was able to bring to bear the wide and valuable experience he had acquired in his previous appointments.

Mr Sullivan was a strong champion of the Maori housing scheme. He was profoundly convinced that the best road to Maori social advancement lay in the improvement of family life, and he saw good housing as a necessary condition for this. His policy was always to use as much as possible of the available money on Maori housing. When he came to the department in 1949, the Maori housing scheme was just beginning to be effective, with a programme of 310 houses that year. In the year 1959–60 the programme is 620.

Upon his retirement, Mr Sullivan has accepted an important post in a private insurance company. He is still far too active to let his administrative talents lie idle.