No risk in sovereign responsibility, government tells public sector

By Jason Whittaker

August 5, 2014

The Abbott government has promised to untangle policy responsibility and reform the federation to boost productivity in a speech to public sector leaders in Canberra tonight.

Delivering the annual Paterson oration to kick off the Australia and New Zealand School of Government conference, Attorney-General George Brandis outlined the government’s reform agenda of removing regulatory burden and driving productivity for economic growth. Brandis was a late replacement for Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who Brandis said was called away to handle developments in the MH17 crash recovery.

The government has initiated a white paper process to examine the federation and government responsibility, which Brandis said would address the “vertical fiscal imbalance” and result in “clearer roles and responsibilities”.

“Now is the time to make each level of government sovereign in its own sphere,” he told the audience in Parliament House’s Great Hall.

He warned about the creeping regulatory burden across all levels of government to mitigate against risk.

“Too often governments have regulated as a response to risk. The knee-jerk reaction is more regulation mitigates risk. Occasionally it does, often it does not …

“A risk-averse public sector will stifle creativity and deny to many the opportunities to be creative.”

Repealing unnecessary legislation and improving approval processes will bring a “real and lasting change of culture”, he said.

Brandis also paid tribute to the public servants involved in the MH17 disaster, saying they “personified the true vocation of the Australian public service”.

He praised the speed of officials within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to respond so quickly to the crash, putting 45 officials on the ground in Europe in an operation that has involved 500 Australian staff overseas. He said it was an example of good public sector work: clear objectives and close co-operation across departments and agencies.

Dr John Paterson died in 2003 after a long career as a respected public servant. Brandis called him a “reformer who served both sides of politics without fear or favour”.

The annual ANZSOG conference is held over two days in Canberra until Thursday.

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