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Senior consultant says Australia is a world leader in public sector reform

MONICA ATTARD: A senior consultant to the United States Government claims Australia is leading the world in public sector reform. Dr Pamela Johnson is a member of the US reinventing government task force commissioned by President, Bill Clinton, in 1993, to 'radically change the way government operates'. Well, last week, the group delivered $57 billion in savings and Dr Johnson says public servants' efficiency and quality must be improved even further. 'But', she says, 'a large slice of the task force's initial success follows a close study of Australian practices'.

PAMELA JOHNSON: Well, very early on, we met with people from the Australian Government, and Australia, like a number of other countries, are really doing a lot in public sector reform. In fact, Australia is really a world leader in this area. And so we met and took a number of recommendations and discussed a number of recommendations as we developed them with Australian public servants, so we really owe a debt to Australia.

SALLY SARA: Why is Australia perceived as a leader in the area?

PAMELA JOHNSON: Well, I think that in the area of budget reform, for example, there have been a number of things that Australia has done moving to triennial budgeting. We recommended biennial budgeting and, in fact, our Congress hasn't passed that yet. A number of steps in budget and financial reform are things that we looked at very closely. But we followed the international scene quite closely, and Australia is generally considered to be a real leader in a number of areas.

SALLY SARA: Is that perception shared by other countries, from what you can gather?

PAMELA JOHNSON: I believe so. We've talked to folks in the United Kingdom and New Zealand. In fact, just before coming over here, I was meeting with a group of governors from Thailand, and there is general recognition that Australia is at the forefront of public sector reform.

SALLY SARA: How difficult is it to improve efficiency and quality in the public sector when quite often the services and products that are being delivered are in a monopoly situation?

PAMELA JOHNSON: Simply asking and simply recognising and measuring performance, even in a monopoly situation, can turn that around. Good examples are tax services, our internal revenue service. That certainly is a monopoly, but they've been making significant changes to become more customer driven.

SALLY SARA: Given the savings that have been delivered already, what does that say about how long overdue this kind of reform is in public administration?

PAMELA JOHNSON: There's no question it's overdue. I mean, we have programs that have clearly been on the books way, way, way past the time when their results have been accomplished. One of my favourites is the Navy dairy which was established outside our naval academy just after the turn of the century when a young naval officer came down with typhoid. Well, we haven't had a case of typhoid in the United States in nearly 40 years, but we still have a Navy dairy, so that's one of the programs that we've recommended for elimination.

MONICA ATTARD: Dr Pamela Johnson, a member of the United States Government National Performance Review, and she was speaking there to Sally Sara in Adelaide.