Fear of failure can be managed with smart risk understanding: Halton

Joined-up government can’t work without a better approach to risk management, says Department of Finance boss Jane Halton. Complaints about risk aversion have fed into APS reforms, but legislation only takes you so far.

Commonwealth agencies must overcome deep cultural patterns to develop the more sophisticated risk management approach demanded by public management reforms and, ultimately, their external stakeholders.

The constant calls for the Australian Public Service to become less risk-averse are not going away, but neither have they fallen on deaf ears over recent years. The push for the public service to improve risk management from external organisations was a major influence behind sections 17 and 18 of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act (PGPA).

“These sections came about because those who worked with the Commonwealth — commercial partners, the community sector and the states and territories — told us that partnering with the Commonwealth could be a really bad experience,” said Department of Finance secretary Jane Halton. ” … our commercial and corporate entities are much more practiced at this. We need to catch up, as departments of state.”

“Broadly speaking, they said that we have the money to get things done, but that we are risk-averse and afraid to innovate.

FREE membership to The Mandarin

Receive unlimited access, get all the latest public sector news and features, plus The Juice, our daily news update sent direct to your inbox.

The Mandarin is where Australia's public sector leaders discuss their work and the issues faced within modern bureaucracy. Join today to discover the latest in public administration thinking and news from our dedicated reporters, current and former agency heads and senior executives.