Auditor questions benefits of unbridled MoG changes

Queensland’s auditor general says he’s concerned about the disruption caused by machinery of government changes in the state,  saying restructures come at a cost and governments need to recognise and manage the risks.

Queensland Auditor-General Brendan Worrall

Machinery of government changes are rarely quick, inexpensive or simple, his report released on Wednesday warns.

“I have had ongoing conerns about the disruption of such changes,” Auditor General Brendan Worrall says.

“I am concerned that government does not have a good enough understanding of the costs of the re-organisation – both initially, and ongoing as departments deliver new or altered services. I am concerned that government is not clear on the benefits it aims to gain from such reorganisations.”

Machinery of government changes following Queensland’s 2020 state election affected 17 departments and transferred more than 6,200 staff and $8.3 billion worth of assets, the report says.

It says the changes relied on the knowledge of a small number of senior public servants, some of whom had now left the public service, taking their knowledge with them.

Errors and omissions

The audit analysed four of the departments affected by the changes, and found all four had errors in the amounts of money they agreed to transfer, and none kept complete project documents or documented lessons learned from the process.

“This loss of knowledge, combined with the loss of experience, increases the risk of departments ‘reinventing the wheel’ or repeating past mistakes,” the report says.

It also says more than 87,000 records have been identified that weren’t transferred correctly as part of restructures in 2017 and 2020, increasing the risk of sensitive information being lost.

The Queensland government in May of this year announced its latest Cabinet reshuffle and changes to public sector functions and responsibilities, and as the report was being prepared for publication, Queensland was facing 11 functions being transferred between 10 departments.

“Now, with the 2023 announcement, our recommendations are more pertinent than ever,” Mr Worrall says.

He also notes that agencies dealing with vulnerable community groups are most typically affected by disruption, with the most-moved areas being arts and multicultural affairs, and youth justice moved four times in under six years.

Machinery of government changes: key risks

  • changes in senior leadership can affect project delivery
  • clashes of culture mean agencies don’t always work together effectively
  • existing internal controls may not address the risk or meet the needs of new departments
  • loss of records and data can occur during transfer of information

The audit office makes seven recommendations and has provided two better practice guides  for managing and implementing machinery of government changes.

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