Cross-sector collaboration successes show the public service no longer needs a monopoly

By Harley Dennett

November 8, 2018

Ever since the New South Wales government restructured its Premier’s Awards for Public Service around the outcomes-based 12 Premier’s Priorities, something interesting has developed out of that approach.

Mirroring conversations that are taking place around Australia and the world, these NSW awards have recognised that planning and delivery of government priorities and public good are not wholly owned by those state officials employed under the Government Sector Employment Act 2013.

This year’s awardees, announced officially at yesterday’s Awards Ceremony, include many public services teams (12 in total across Family and Community Services, Industry, Health, Transport and Justice departments),  three schools, a public hospital, four individual public servants and three health service employees. But it also recognised two local councils and a partnership that involves an Aboriginal land council, aboriginal ranger service, several not-for-profit community groups and a private sector corporation.

The Muli Muli Clean Up Country Project team (pictured above) was among the top honoured yesterday for contributing to reducing the volume of litter in the state, supporting the Premier’s priority to reduce the volume of litter by 40% by 2020. The project was nominated not solely as the work of the state’s Environmental Protection Authority, which had two projects among the finalists this year, but also shared billing with seven other entities that do not belong to the state government (plus the local school).

The project itself began as an initiative of the Muli Muli Ladies Club, which is a part of the Muli Muli Local Aboriginal Land Council, whose members were concerned about the impact of a 50-year-old waste dumping site that had encroached on the traditional burial grounds of their ancestors. With the EPA on board, along with the Githabul Rangers, the local government North East Waste, and others, the combined effort resulted in:

  • the removal of 76 truckloads (2000 tonnes) of litter and dumped waste;
  • revegetation of the old tip site;
  • introduction of new recycling services managed by the community;
  • employment of a community engagement advisor; and
  • delivery of an innovative recycling education program.

The EPA has turned this project into a pilot for the introduction of its statewide Aboriginal Communities Waste Management Program, so more communities can benefit from what was learned in this partnership.

Crossing portfolios, the environmental project also contributed to the forming of an unexpected artistic partnership — the creation of a rap song:

The song was created in May 2017 in a 5 day Desert Pea Media (DPM) storytelling workshop. It stars the ‘Githabul Next Generation’ from Muli Muli community and Woodenbong Central School, in partnership with North East Waste and the NSW Environment Protection Authority.

DPM was invited to Githabul Country to facilitate a conversation about important environmental ideas facing the community and create content that could engage, inspire and educate audiences.

The project came about through an innovative recycling and rubbish program, developed with elders in the local community of Muli Muli. Working with Tash Morton from North East Waste, they are developing a program to ‘clean up’ the community rubbish dump and implement a new recycling campaign to reduce waste, educate the local mob and protect cultural sites and country from pollution.

‘Breaking Habits’ is a funky, roots-inspired anthem from the local Original Nations community that hopes to raise awareness and educate people about the importance of caring for country.

A different kind of public service role

Coming to terms with the need to collaborate outside the public sector, especially with not-for-profits and corporations, has been a conversation that has come up repeatedly at recent public administration and practice forums. This was particularly noticeable when The Mandarin joined the national series of talks by Institute of Public Administration Australia national president Professor Peter Shergold in the latter half of this year.

With a shared understanding between the public service agency and not-for-profit groups they were work with, these collaborations can build much-needed capacity for the government, said one currently serving top state mandarin who had worked on such collaborations. The key, the official said, was having frank conversations about the challenges and not introducing more roadblocks.

The role of the public servant in these instances is practical or facilitative leadership, argued Shergold, a former secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Not everyone can adapt to this role easily, he said. “Remind ministers to focus on a defined outcome, then ministers can manage risk.”

Note: As a condition of attending events run by some IPAA state branches, The Mandarin was asked not to name individual public service speakers.

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