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Coordinating the numbers game

HOW do you restructure a public sector boasting 769 boards, committees, agencies, departments and statutory authorities in three months?

That was the task facing Stuart Hicks when the Gallop Government announced it was restructuring the WA public sector.

In fact, the 769 may not be entirely correct – there could be more, but nobody is really sure.

The Government’s restructure move was well received by industry groups such as the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which believed the WA public sector was too big.

Mr Hicks headed the Machinery of Government taskforce, which also included three department chief executive officers.

The former senior public servant, who retired as director general of the Department of Transport in 1996, had been involved with several public sector reviews. He even chaired one.

Mr Hicks described the three-month time frame as both “outrageous and totally appropriate”.

“It’s outrageous when you consider the complexity of the WA public sector and it’s entirely appropriate because any longer and you start getting bogged down in detail,” Mr Hicks said.

“The grave risk is paralysis by analysis.

“We had a broad architectural structure to Government in one month.”

The taskforce’s final report ran to nearly 300 pages and made 55 recommendations.

While the Government accepted all of the recommendations, the one of which Mr Hicks is proudest was number 55.

That recommended the taskforce be disbanded to remove the temptation to tinker further with the public sector.

WA’s public sector has been the subject of seven reviews in the past decade.

These reviews have been criticised for making little impact on the size of the sector, which at 46 departments dwarfed the administrations of other States.

Mr Hicks admits reducing the sector to 23 departments means WA still has one of the biggest administrations in Australia.

“At least 23 departments makes things more manageable,” he said.

However, Mr Hicks said the taskforce had not wanted to create the “super agencies” that had been created in Victoria.

He said the taskforce worked with public sector leaders and public sector unions so there “weren’t any surprises” when the report came out.

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