Moran: public servants, states need more autonomy

Public servants want to innovate — but they need more freedom to do it. That was the message from one former top mandarin last week.

Public servants need to be given more freedom to innovate. That was the key message from a speech on public sector innovation given by Terry Moran, former secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, last week in Canberra.

Suggesting that public sector innovation to date had focused on policy over service delivery, Moran stated that although Australia has “one of the most economical public sectors in the OECD world”, there was still a lot of room to improve.

Offering support for organisational decentralisation, he argued that “unless we find a way … to devolve more responsibility to the local level and have clearer political understandings about who’s responsible for what … we will stifle innovation that might otherwise occur.”

The overarching message was increased autonomy: public servants should be given more discretion in applying funds, and a greater share of subsequent accountability. “Activity-based funding, linked to efficient pricing … was, for the public hospital system, the absolutely ideal way of giving people at the local level a bundle of resources, some outputs to deliver, some standard pricing arrangements, and thus a whole lot of freedom to operate,” said Moran.

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.