Commissioner questions ability of bureaucrats to deliver reform

The NSW Ageing and Disability Commissioner has cast doubt on the ability of public servants to deliver the sweeping changes the government is promising to the aged care system.

Commissioner Robert Fitzgerald addresses the ACSA Summit in Canberra on May 4, 2022

The government has pledged to overhaul the way aged care is delivered in Australia and introduce a new Aged Care Act in response to the findings of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, which uncovered systemic flaws in the current system.

Commissioner Robert Fitzgerald, who has spent the last 20 years in the public service, including as a Commissioner with the Productivity Commission, told a key aged care conference on Wednesday “I’m a great fan of public servants.. and I like statutory agencies”.

However, he said there has been a reduction in the capacity of governments to deliver and implement significant reform in Australia, with a tendency to consistently repeat the same mistakes.

“Australia is capable of enormous change and reform,” he said during a keynote address at the ACSA National Summit 2022 in Canberra.

“We could talk about early childhood development reforms, we could talk about reforms in a whole range of other areas.

“But what has become a pattern of flaws in the design and systemic failures in the implementation in most of those reform strategies, we can’t afford to do that in aged care.

“The number of dollars, the number of people affected, the number of workers affected, the number of services affected, it’s too great.”

Commercial in confidence a roadblock to reform

Commissioner Fitzgerald said the reduction in the capacity and competence of the public service to implement reform is well recognised.

“Anybody who’s honest will tell you that, but the way around that is not getting more consultants,” he said.

He said the only way forward was to sit down with representatives of the aged care sector and engage in hard negotiation.

The notion of commercial in confidence has destroyed my public trust in the governance of bureaucracies.

Commissioner Robert Fitzgerald

The government must accept transparency if that is to occur, he said.

That meant putting on the table all the information it has and sharing it openly with the sector, with aged care providers expected to do the same.

“The notion of commercial in confidence has destroyed my public trust in the governance of bureaucracies, because they won’t release the information which should be publicly available,” the Commissioner said.

“I hope in this space transparency is embraced by the government – whomever that might be – and the department and the sector.

“It didn’t happen in the past, and it’s got nothing to do with which party is in power. This is a structural issue within the public sector.”

Commission Fitzgerald said very few Commonwealth bureaucrats have experience in service delivery, in contrast to state public servant who often come up from areas like health, education, community services or justice.

 “If you’re dealing with people that haven’t had that experience -they’re great people, good thinkers – but that thought needs to be supplemented by those that actually deliver,” he said.

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6 thoughts on “Commissioner questions ability of bureaucrats to deliver reform

  1. Government requires taxpayer transparency to ensure a fair share of taxes are paid, it is only fair there is complete transparency to ensure those hard-earned taxes are spent appropriately.

  2. I agree with the Disability Commissioner
    Governance is always more interested in the process and risk avoidance than a successful outcome.
    You must be open and honest with every one when dealing with these matters.
    The change must be lead and there are very few real leaders in the public service. The people who masquerade as leaders are more likely to be pushing there own activism, philosophy or them selves.
    The people involved should be focused on getting things done rather than political correctness.

  3. In general I could not agree more with your comments Robert however the real problem is that the Government has always seen the Aged Care Sector and the NDIS as a bottomless pit without delivering a return- particularly as we move through the changing generational cycles -and decisions and directions are taken and delivered to bureacrats to minimise expenditure where necessary within “guidelines”. Having said that there are real concerns that public sector outsourcing of work and jobs comes at a cost. Eg.People with valuable experience over many years who knew the systems/processes/procedures inside out and were dedicated to their work being turfed out or put in a corner never to be seen again because there view does not conform to what the Govt wants.Having said all of this, I do appreciate it will be hard work for any Govt to balance the books with this type of open ended expenditure expanding but I do believe that the implementation processes can be made a lot better and more streamlined with the help of all the players

  4. The problem is the public service has been dumbed down by government for the past decade. Skilled, experienced and professional specialists have been replaced with generic public servants who have little capacity to offer sensible strategy and policy.
    Senior public servants are now employed for their compliance rather than their ability to deliver good policy.

  5. So True! The notion of commercial in confidence has destroyed my public trust in the governance of bureaucracies.
    Commissioner Robert Fitzgerald
    The government must accept transparency if that is to occur, he said.

    Democracy is foiled by Both State and Federal Governments hiding behind this Paper Wall. That ends up being the root cause of Governments inability to Deliver on time & on budget .
    It is every Minister’s or Department heads Favorite rubber stamp [Commercial in Confidence] It says its dodgy and most likely corrupt.
    So we have generations in Australia where Nobody trusts [Government} them to tell the truth.

  6. The long running dumming down the Public Service is a tragedy of unmitigated proportions. I think it is by design and that design is
    to facilitates the movement towards autocracy.
    If I remember correctly the Liberals axed large numbers of very highly skilled Taxation dept staff. This has left an unbelievable amount of unpaid tax significantly by corporations but not entirely.
    More Public servants might well be able to draft appropriate legislation to correct at least in a medium to large part of this loss of revenue.

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