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Better government: improving program implementation and delivery: address to Institute of Public Administration Australia Forum, Canberra

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Parliament House, Canberra ACT 2600 Australia Tel: (02) 6277 7400 Fax: (02) 6273 4110

PW 241/11 15 November 2011




***check against delivery***

Thank you Carmel for the kind introduction.

I’d like to commend the work of the Institute of Public Administration Australia and the

Australian Institute of Project Management for enhancing public administration in this


The work you do doesn’t always grab headlines - but it is a vital role nevertheless.

Improving the delivery and implementation of government programs is at the core of the

Better Government agenda I announced last year.

It is an agenda that is broad in scope.

And it is a task that requires ongoing focus.

It responds to the expectations of citizens in both policy and delivery.

And it reflects the standards we set for ourselves as a government.

It’s a reform agenda that is all about the detail; methodically improving the systems within

government to enable better government.


Fiscal context

Today I’d like to outline how I see this agenda situated against the backdrop of the

nation’s longer term fiscal challenges, and how the increased complexity of Government

policy responses requires a renewed focus on implementation.

I will also touch on some of the tools that Government - mainly through the Department

of Finance - have recently developed to support this task.

In the short term - the Government is focused on returning the Budget to surplus and

adhering to a strict fiscal discipline.

It is a fiscal discipline we laid down during the GFC - indeed it was part of our response.

To the community and to markets we clearly set out our path to return the budget to


It is a discipline to which we are holding, notwithstanding the task is more difficult given

the obvious consequences of a weaker global outlook, a softer domestic economy as well

as the persistent legacy effects of the GFC on revenues.

However, amidst the day-to-day commentary on matters economic, we ought not lose

sight of our medium and long-term fiscal challenges.

And this is not just a numerical challenge.

As a Labor Government - we understand the importance of social services and a strong

safety net.

We also understand these must be both appropriate and sustainable.

Delivering this in the years ahead requires strong Government finances over the medium

to longer term.

This was the Government’s perspective when we assembled experts and community

representatives for the recent tax forum in Parliament House.

The fiscal paper we released prior to the forum built on the 2010 Intergenerational Report

- highlighting the long term pressures on the Commonwealth budget.


Health care is a prime example where we see real spending triple from 2009-10 to the

middle of the century.

And this is just one function of Government - but it will put pressure on all other


The long term fiscal challenge needs to inform both the decisions we take as a

Government and the manner in which they are delivered.

The Government has taken this approach in recent budgets.

We have taken a number of decisions - tough decisions - aimed at meeting the near

term fiscal challenge as well as putting the budget on a more sustainable footing for the

longer term.

Phasing out the dependent spouse tax offset was a decision taken in the 2011-12 Budget

that delivered savings in the near term - but will also have a considerable participation

effect - removing barriers to employment and strengthening the revenue base.

These decisions have been matched by the ongoing task of improving the efficiency of


From coordinated procurement, to reduced travel and consultancies - the Government

has driven efficiencies in our operations.

These efficiencies have made a healthy contribution to delivering on our fiscal objectives.

And we will continue to pursue efficiencies in our operations.

Better Government

And it is this fiscal context that provides one of the key drivers of improved program

delivery and implementation.

As community expectations pull our budget in one direction, the ageing of the population

will be pulling in the other.

The increased need for healthcare services will come up against a narrowing revenue



To be able to deliver a high level of care - even with increased funding - we will need to

maximise the effectiveness of expenditure.

Again, this is not just a matter of cost cutting; it requires new policies and programs that

will deliver high quality care.

E-health is an example where moving records online reduces the transaction costs of

care; it improves the information available to medical staff achieving quicker diagnosis.

It also reduces instances of mistakes, and improves patient outcomes.

And this will only be boosted with the roll out of the NBN.

Indeed, the NBN is likely to be the backbone of substantial reform in the way Government

delivers programs.

In this context the Government also needs to be sure that new programs are meeting

their objectives - that implementation matches intent.

This is at the heart of the better government agenda.

This goes beyond the often one dimensional efficiencies and general budget tightening.

These are important - but over the longer term we need to be sure that our delivery is up

to the increasingly complex tasks, with increasingly tight budgets.

Good implementation is good for the budget.

It requires innovation.

It requires responsiveness.

It can often require a new perspective.

Change in the community necessitates innovation in the way we deliver programs.

Innovation should be a core public sector competency.

With increasingly complex and interconnected policy problems before Government,

whether it be aged care or indigenous health outcomes, the existing policy prescriptions

may no longer be valid.


But hand and in hand with innovation is the need for effective and efficient


This is vital.

That is why the Government’s Better Government agenda aims to:

encourage innovation and

focus attention on efficient and effective implementation.

Because with innovation comes the need for assurance.

Managing these tensions is central to the Government’s Better Government agenda.

It requires measured analysis, and rigorous assessment.

It requires an eye to effectively managing risk.

Better Implementation

So I’d like to take this opportunity this morning to outline three measures that

Government has put in place to strengthen program implementation and delivery.

These processes assist Cabinet in decision-making, they assess the preparedness of

agencies, and they track a project’s implementation once established.

These policies will provide additional assurance to Government and agencies as new

policy decisions are taken.

They will ensure that the right capabilities are in place to see Government programs

implemented successfully.

They bring real world discipline to new policy design, and will give increased confidence

to Government that a good policy will be a well delivered program.

In general, the public sector does a good job of delivering and implementing the

Government’s policy objectives.

There is a high level of confidence in the delivery of programs year in, year out.

But there is always benefit in strengthening existing arrangements.


This includes bringing to the fore risk assessments at the time of decision making.

The recently introduced Risk Potential Assessment Tool assists agencies to identify,

assess and communicate the potential risk of a proposal to ministers before seeking

Cabinet’s agreement.

This process of self assessment is an important tool in flagging implementation issues -

and providing an opportunity for changes to be made to better achieve the Government’s


Another key theme we are emphasising through the Better Government agenda is the

use of independent assurance and advice.

While self assessment is important, independent advice can provide additional

confidence in a program’s successful implementation.

This is not a comment on the quality of advice from Departments and agencies - but

rather recognition that advice from external parties can often value add.

In the context of dealing with the policy challenges before us, good assurance provides

an independent assessment of whether the elements of successful program delivery are

in place.

In itself independent assurance does not deliver a program, but it can identify and help

mitigate any risks to successful delivery of a program.

It can boost confidence or the certainty that program objectives can be delivered as


Assurance reviews provide an important feedback loop to decision makers to help them

make better informed policy choices.

This can reduce the causes of program failure, promote the conditions for success and

increase the chance of delivering the required outcome cost-effectively.

It helps ensure program delivery is disciplined and highlights where risks arise.

It utilises and promotes the use of better practice.

The use of highly skilled and experienced independent reviewers (many of whom are

drawn from the senior APS ranks) increases the confidence in implementation.


The Government has introduced a number of assurance mechanisms which build greater

levels of confidence in the efficiency and effectiveness of implementation utilising external


These policies provide assurance of an agency’s capacity prior to implementation and

then track progress as projects are rolled out.

The Implementation Readiness Assessments are five-day targeted reviews which focus

strategically on key areas in determining agency capability and preparedness in planning

to implement a proposal.

They provide agencies with the opportunity to gain independent assurance on how well

practical delivery issues are being addressed in preparing for implementation.

The independent assurance derived from the IRA review process also assists with the

Government’s consideration of agencies’ capability and preparedness to implement and

deliver in relation to certain high risk proposals.

The involvement of senior agency managers in the role of the ‘Senior Responsible

Official’ during implementation reviews has established systems and procedures that will

provide greater certainty around the implementation of programs and projects.

This confirms our experience that the implementation of policy is more likely to succeed if

there is strong executive-level support for the delivery processes of the policy.

The Gateway Review Process are five-day targeted reviews but the distinguishing feature

is that the purpose of the review is to assist the senior officials to achieve their

accountabilities and responsibilities and deliver project or program objectives.

Gateway reviews demonstrably strengthen the oversight and governance of major

projects and assists agencies to deliver agreed projects in accordance with the stated


Concluding Remarks

While it is unlikely improving implementation is going to make the headlines it is a vital task that sits at the core of good government.

As the challenges facing governments increase in complexity, the need for robust and methodical implementation becomes vital.


As Finance Minister this is particularly relevant, as the demographics of Australia will increase the burden on the next generation of tax payers.

We will need to better deliver the key services that people expect of government.

This will require innovation and new approaches.

Thank you