Let ideas transcend jurisdiction: ACT invites widely for first territory IPAA conference

By Stephen Easton

Friday September 18, 2015

Carmel McGregor

The ACT branch of the Institute for Public Administration Australia has a unique position with two very different governments from which to draw its members.

While most of the Australian Public Service and the mandarins that control its giant budgets stalk the capital’s inner suburbs, the territory’s government combines the roles of local council and provincial administration. At the intersection of issues affecting the business side of both, the local branch of the professional body for public administrators is hosting its own IPAA ACT conference for the first time.

The sold-out event next Thursday will focus more on panel discussions between experienced facilitators, drawcard speakers and delegates, rather than long pre-prepared presentations. A pre-conference dinner on Wednesday night promises to be a fiscal affair with the heads of Treasury and the Department of Finance, John Fraser and Jane Halton, having a chat with the ABC’s Emma Alberici.

According to IPAA ACT vice-president Carmel McGregor (pictured top), the decision to hold the event flowed on from the enthusiasm that remained after a very positive experience hosting the professional body’s national conference in 2013. The aim is to host lively discussions between people of different backgrounds that “transcend jurisdiction”.

“We have asked them to just make a short statement so it’s not as if that will dominate,” she told The Mandarin. “I think people tend to be able to convey a lot more in an interactive style and bouncing off each other. That tends to add to the richness of the conversation. Rather than a set piece, I think that really works.”

Each speaker will have an opportunity to give a short opening statement, she explained, but only for a few minutes.

“It’s usually in the conversation and the probing that you get to hear the depth of their thinking on the sorts of issues that wouldn’t be part of a set speech,” explained McGregor, a consultant and adjunct professor at the University of Canberra who has been a deputy secretary with the Department of Defence and a deputy APS commissioner.

Heavy hitters

On the bill are federal mandarins including the nation’s most senior public servant Michael Thawley and Department of Employment head Renee Leon alongside the head of the ACT public service, Kathy Leigh, and former ACT chief minister Kate Carnell, who now represents the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

“One of the big hits from 2013 was George Megalogenis, so he’s coming along to facilitate our first session, and that’ll just be terrific again because he brings a very broad perspective and can really flush out the issues that will be so pertinent,” said McGregor.

The well known economics reporter and author will be hosting a session featuring Thawley, Leigh and Carnell called “Making the public service great”, which gazes into the future and asks how the role of public sector entities should change.

“We think that session will really tease out what the community is expecting from the public service, so this is an opportunity for them to impart some key messages but also for the public service to have a dialogue with them,” the IPAA ACT vice-president said.

There’ll be two public service commissioners there: John Lloyd of the APS and his New South Wales counterpart, Graeme Head, on a panel with IPAA’s incoming national president Penny Armitage. Facilitated by KPMG Canberra’s government partner and fellow of the IPAA, Cath Ingram, they will discuss how public servants can enhance “capability and capacity” for reform by learning from past mistakes, learning from others and making use of the latest technology.

UC professor Mark Evans from the Institute for Governance and Public Administration will chair another session on collaborating with companies and not-for-profit organisations to improve service delivery.

Alongside Leon will be the ACT bureaucrat charged with delivering the city’s new light rail line, Emma Thomas, and successful local business woman Michelle Melbourne, a co-founder of digital business consultancy Intelledox.

The chairs, Megalogenis, Evans and Ingram, will then come together in a final panel to sum up what they see as the key points of the day.

“And for us in IPAA that may throw up specific areas which we might pursue separately, either as research or work with departments, or further seminars and conversations,” said McGregor. “We want to keep having a conversation with our members and our sponsors and our government colleagues about the same issues that are facing all of us.”

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