Innovating, not stagnating, key to public sector post-pandemic

By Anna Macdonald

April 29, 2022

Participants at the BiiG 2022 conference. (Joseph Byford/The Mandarin)

There should be no ‘return to normal’ as Australia shifts into a post-pandemic era, said Department of Resources deputy director-general for environmental policy and programs Karen Hussey.

In a session on innovation at the BiiG Network Public Sector Innovation Conference, Hussey argued that a return to pre-pandemic would result in stagnation, echoing sentiments expressed by director-general of Queensland’s Department of Premier and Cabinet Rachel Hunter the previous day

“It’s been a real revelation to me just how innovative my colleagues are and the programs and policies that we put out,” said Hussey. “What I would say, though, is that we need to raise our level of ambition. And my observation of Queensland is that we pit ourselves against New South Wales and Victoria. To my mind, that’s not good. We should be looking internationally to see what best practice is.”

For Queensland police senior sergeant Kelly McAuliffe, a police force that fails to innovate has a direct impact on the organisation’s ability to perform its function.

“[Organised criminals] are innovating ahead of the game,” said McAuliffe. “If we don’t keep up, we won’t be able to ‘catch them’, for want of a better term. So it’s about staying ahead of the technology… It’s not just technology, but how do we do our business differently so that we can continue to serve the community to make Queensland the safest state.”

Allowing private sector innovation can complement what the public sector can offer, said Queensland Revenue Office assistant commissioner Christine Crain.

“There is no shortage of money when you go to market. Money is not your problem. What your problem is, is how government behaves and partners and how you can mature the service sector to respond in a businesslike manner, as opposed to a government contract and recipient.

“It’s not unique, but it is something that is quite challenging. There is this overwhelming desire for government to deliver everything. We know we don’t have all the answers, but if you can incentivise innovation in the areas close to those people that are experiencing that vulnerability or disadvantage, you get some cracker results,” said Crain.

When asked about an innovation failure, Queensland Department of Energy and Public Works acting director-general Sharon Bailey disagreed there had been failures, characterising them instead as a ‘work in progress’.

“A general thing with innovation and public policy in any event is that the environment and the circumstances keep changing. You never actually solve it. The idea that you solve it is just a myth. It’s a myth. You might solve it for the next 12 months, and then the circumstances are going to change again,” said Bailey.

Bailey acknowledged the stress implementing innovation can place on trust, while Hussey further emphasised the importance of being flexible and setting aside hierarchical structures.


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