The “far queue” to motorists needing vehicle inspections in the Top End was once a favourite subject for the nationally renowned headline writers at the NT News. But even the tabloid now admits things have improved — and the agency has an award to prove it.
The Chief Minister’s Excellence in the Public Service customer service gong for the Motor Vehicle Registry marked a dramatic 12-month turnaround. Its director Glenda Thornton was also recognised with a public service medal. “It has been truly a team effort,” Thornton told The Mandarin.
“We’ve got a good bunch here. Everybody has had to do their normal role as well as take on extra duties, and everyone’s been very accepting of it.”
Thornton points out that with over 800,000 transactions a year — about six for every working age territorian — motor registry shopfronts contribute a lot to the public’s impression of how well their government functions. With no additional budget, MVR has rolled out front-end changes like sticker-free registration, a smartphone app and over-the-counter transactions at Australia Post, as well as regulatory changes to speed things up and reflect the reality of modern road safety.
Roadworthiness checks were previously required when new cars aged three, five, seven and 10 years, then annually thereafter — a strict enforcement that limits the number of people who can renew their registration online. “We looked at the average age of a vehicle here … and we then pulled it back to a five-year inspection and a 10-year inspection and then annually thereafter, which meant that many, many more online transactions could go through,” Thornton explained. Eyesight testing was also relaxed to be only required for new licenses and then annually starting from age 70, and NT driver licences now last for 10 years instead of five.
“We upgraded the call centre phone system, which I think just made it a friendlier environment for people to use, and we reviewed a lot of our processes to make it easier for people to do things online, or through the phone app, or Australia Post,” Thornton added. “We’re continually looking at what we can grow from that first lot of improvements and we’re hoping to grow servicing with Australia Post.”
The app lets motorists snap a photo of an inspection report and send it to the MVR, where staff look over it and email back inviting the customer to pay online without going to the shopfront.
“Something else we’re working on at the moment is giving authorised inspectors direct access to our system; we’re actually running a trial at the moment,” said Thornton. “They’ll be able to update directly into our database a past inspection, and then the client will be able to go online and renew it from there, again, not having to come into the motor registry at all.” The MVR is also looking at sending mail into digital mailboxes in future.
A machinery-of-government change which actually de-merged the Department of Transport from Lands and Planning made it easier to get so many things done so quickly, in Thornton’s opinion.“These people really do take their jobs seriously; they do care …”
Wait times have improved and staff are happier; turnover has dropped from 53% to 19%. Thornton believes the rate will likely stay high because MVR functions like a training ground for the NT public service — a good thing for the employees and the government. When Thornton took charge of the maligned team in 2012 she says it was obvious staff did care about doing a good job.
“One of the things I noticed when I first came here to work [was] I’d walk in over the back verandah and I’d hear people speaking quite passionately about their work, and of course they’d have a newspaper out on the table and it would be really personal to them if they read something [negative] in the newspaper,” she said. “These people really do take their jobs seriously; they do care, but they saw themselves up against the wall. There wasn’t much they could do because the place was just growing and they just had to do with what they had, basically.
“Now, staff are really happy. They’re so excited about what they’ve been able to achieve, and it’s just created momentum and it’s just become really infectious among all of the staff to deliver quality customer service, because they can actually see there’s been a change.”