Mary Ann O’Loughlin on federalism, demands of public service

Mary Ann O’Loughlin drove the COAG Reform Council before it was abolished in June. She reflects on federalism and public service with The Mandarin.

Mary Ann O'Louglin

Mary Ann O’Louglin

Mary Ann O’Loughlin was packing up her desk when The Mandarin first spoke to her. The seasoned public servant was executive councillor and head of the secretariat of the Council of Australian Governments Reform Council, the body set up by John Howard in 2006 to drive regulatory reform and expanded by Kevin Rudd to examine education, health and indigenous disadvantage.

But on June 30 O’Loughlin and a staff of around 25 under chairman John Brumby walked away after the Abbott government abandoned the program (the Reform Council was administered by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, but jointly funded by the Commonwealth and the states and territories). The government says the work of the council can be taken up by federal departments.

O’Loughlin’s team monitored COAG agreements and measured performance — a mixed bag in recent years — with regular public reporting. That reporting, O’Loughlin says, means “you’re putting some pressure on government to perform”.

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