The five reforms quietly changing Victoria for the better

By Andrew Wear

Thursday February 5, 2015

Out of the spotlight, the quiet work of best-practice public administration can be remarkably transformational, particularly when viewed with a longer-term perspective.

During 2014, in an effort to better understand Victorian best-practice public administration, I interviewed nine fellows from the Institute of Public Administration Victoria. The following are five of the top reforms identified by the interviewees …

1. Fewer road fatalities

Whether it be the introduction of mandatory seat belts, random alcohol and drug testing or mandatory electronic stability control for new vehicles, Victoria has been at the forefront of improvements to road safety. The establishment of the Transport Accident Commission underpinned these reforms with a no-fault compensation scheme.

These reforms involved contributions from a large number of agencies. One interviewee argued the success of the reforms was due to:

“A very well defined target, that’s relatively easy to quantify and calculate … that has also made it much easier for the various parties to cut through on issues and work out differences.”

There are now about 0.7 fatalities per 10,000 registered vehicles, the lowest of all Australian jurisdictions. This is down from three fatalities per 10,000 registered vehicles in the 1980s, a reduction of about 75%.

2. Reduced household water consumption

With the onset of drought at the turn of the millennium, water restrictions were imposed on users to drive changes in behaviour. Complementing these restrictions were a range of efficiency measures: water efficient buildings and appliances, pricing to encourage prudent use and rebates for water-saving products. These measures were further supported by marketing informed by the principles of behavioural economics, such as the “Target 155” program. One interviewee concluded that:

“The drop in demand over the last decade has been pretty impressive … the fact that we’ve been able to have permanent water savings as a new normal has been a huge shift.”

Even after the drought broke and water restrictions were lifted, water consumption remained low. In 2013-14 it was 160 litres per person, 35% less than in 2000-01, or 62% less than in the ’90s.

3. Melbourne’s liveability

Melbourne is growing by about 100,000 people per year, and is generally coping well with its growth. In 2014, the Economist Intelligence Unit crowned Melbourne as the “world’s most liveable city” for the fourth straight year.

As one interviewee said, with positive net interstate migration and substantial net overseas migration, “people are voting with their feet”. Another interviewee said that:

“Over the last 20 or 30 years, Victoria has been ahead of the pack in terms of the way it has a fairly well thought out strategy and good implementation behind it.”

Consequently, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to argue that:

“The fact that Melbourne is one of the world’s most liveable cities is largely the consequence of excellent public policy.”

4. Family violence

A number of interviewees raised the substantial progress that had been made in “getting serious” about family violence, and in particular effective collaboration between agencies. One interviewee highlighted the extent of engagement by responsible government organisations, noting:

“The difference between Victoria Police now and Victoria Police then is palpable in terms of treating it as a serious issue, encouraging reporting, responding in a more serious way.”

While the interviewees agreed significant progress had been made, there was agreement that there is still some way to go in terms of effectively preventing or addressing family violence.

5. Service delivery

A majority of the interviewees pointed to service delivery as a significant achievement for public administration in Victoria, with one arguing that:

“We lead the nation — or are near the top of the nation — in most areas of public service provision … and in some areas we are well regarded globally.”

The efficiency and effectiveness of Victoria’s service delivery is built on decades of reform. This includes the introduction of activity-based funding for public hospitals, youth justice diversion programs, and the funding of Victorian government schools based on actual student enrolments.

The 2015 Report on Government Services found Victoria’s spending was lower than other jurisdictions, while performance was either at or exceeding the national average across most service areas.

What do you think? Are these reforms worthy of recognition? Or are there others you think should be celebrated?

This is an edited extract of a longer article — How Best Practice Public Administration is Quietly Transforming Victoria — published recently in the Australian Journal of Public AdministrationAJPA is published by the Institute of Public Administration Australia and Wiley and is available free to all IPAA members.

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