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Proof will be in the pudding on government department shake-up

Tags: Government Sector, public relations, WA LABOR

Associate Director, Jamie Henderson

On 1 July 2017, the first stage of the McGowan Government’s Machinery of Government (MOG) reforms go live.

Announced in April, the reforms deliver a 40 per cent reduction in government departments, reducing the number from forty-one to twenty-five. The list of new departments can be found here.

The reforms were announced to “help create a more efficient public sector to deliver better services for the community” and “to drive a change of culture across government and reduce the number of government departments.”

The Premier, Mark McGowan has said, “we are not just changing the name on the door.” He has also said he may cut more departments in the future.

This is promising language and indicates an agenda of serious reform but whether the outcomes of these changes are positive, in terms of a more efficient public service and better services, will take years to ascertain.

The case of the Western Australian Office of Shared Services serves as a warning as to what can go wrong with ambitious reform. At a time when the budget is tight, the State can ill afford badly-executed reforms which end up costing the taxpayer more money and don’t deliver a positive result.

That does not mean the McGowan Government should not drive these MOG changes. The reforms are necessary and the Government is to be commended for its reformist agenda.

The growth in WA’s public sector annual wage bill over the past decade has been well documented. Forty-one government departments appears excessive, especially with duplicated services in many departments.  The obvious duplications are in human resources, finance and IT but there are no doubt many others. Other jurisdictions have consolidated to create efficiencies with unclear results; Victoria now only has seven departments and New South Wales has ten.

A Victorian Parliamentary inquiry into the Victorian Government's 2014 MOG changes, found it hard to determine the benefits of the changes as there was little monitoring of the costs associated with them and therefore no transparency of the benefits and cost savings. Western Australia does not want to end up in the same position.

It is imperative the McGowan Government delivers the outcome of a more efficient public service but this will require innovative and strong leadership within government.

There is a risk that if the new mega-departments have internal silos which match current department structures, the outcome will be a business-as-usual approach.

This process of change must be managed carefully and it is important that a transparent system to monitor the costs and effectiveness of the reforms is created and the results reported to the public.

Over the coming years, the community needs to be able to be look past the name changes and understand what genuine reform is happening.

It is positive to see the Government embarking on these reforms. Let’s hope they can deliver better services, a more efficient public service and be able to demonstrate they have done so. 
 

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