19/12/2016 - 18:28

McGowan looks for measured performance

19/12/2016 - 18:28

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Opinion: A Labor state government will seek to incentivise the public sector to more energetically pursue policies.

McGowan looks for measured performance
TIGHT SHIP: Mark McGowan has made public his plan to introduce closer scrutiny of how the government is run. Photo: Attila Csaszar.

Opinion: A Labor state government will seek to incentivise the public sector to more energetically pursue policies.

Opposition leader Mark McGowan has given the state’s senior bureaucrats plenty to think about as they prepare to head off for their Christmas-New Year break. In essence, he believes that life is too comfortable, and it is time for a shakeup.

Mr McGowan flagged that, if he leads the Labor Party to victory in the March state election, the performance of departmental heads will be scrutinised as never before.

Their salaries will be assessed against how they measure up against 20 key performance indicators (depending on the department), such as attracting more overseas tourists and students, increasing local employment on government projects, and reducing the use of methamphetamines.

The inference here is that government departments and agencies need to be more energetic in implementing and monitoring policies being promoted by the government of the day.

In a novel twist, Mr McGowan told a Committee for Economic Development of Australia breakfast that: “Ongoing assessment of performance and the monitoring of the KPIs will also include the contribution of key industry bodies. Consulting with industry should be a key part in the overall assessment process.”

There is no doubt that industry would like formal input into the enthusiasm – or lack of enthusiasm – of top bureaucrats. Whether that attitude is reciprocated could be another matter, especially if the Labor leader’s threat of a 20 per cent pay cut for failing to perform is implemented.

Mr McGowan also promised to slash more than 100 positions in the senior executive service – a clear sign he believes the public sector to be top heavy – and cut the number of agencies in a push designed to save hundreds of millions of dollars.

Departments and agencies could be merged in an attempt to improve efficiency. Not a bad idea.

Overall, it is a bold series of initiatives that could provide the biggest jolt for the public service since another Labor premier introduced an across-the-board cut in the salaries of the highest paid in the government sector – including judges and politicians – by 10 per cent in 1983.

That premier was Brian Burke and the initiative coincided with an economic downturn, and a wage freeze initiated by then Liberal prime minister Malcolm Fraser. The freeze wasn’t popular, and the Fraser government was voted out and denied a fourth term.

Mr Burke’s action wasn’t mirrored in other states, but it helped deflect attention from significant increases in charges for government services. The message was that not only were those on ‘struggle street’ doing it tough, the fat cats were getting an extra hit, and that’s ok.

There is one major difference between the approaches of the two Labor leaders. Mr McGowan announced his intentions before an election, which gives the Liberals and Nationals time to mount a scare campaign ahead off the poll.

The Burke initiatives were revealed only after he had led Labor to victory, ending nine years of state coalition government. It wasn’t welcomed among those affected. In fact some retired public servants are still bitter, even though the pay cut was eventually restored.

The challenge for Mr McGowan is to not only get the vast majority of public sector workers on side, but to win their vote as well.

Chasing registration

A record number of political parties and candidates is expected to contest the state election.

Nine parties already have registration, compared with seven at the last poll in 2013. A further five, including Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, are hoping to meet the WA Electoral Commission’s requirements in time to have their names included on the ballot papers.

The other parties seeking recognition are the Liberal Democratic Party, the Animal Justice Party, the Socialist Alliance and the Fluoride Free WA Party.

Campaigning is well under way but will ease off as Christmas Day approaches. The formal campaign will crank up with the issuing of the writs on February 1.

Electronic voting will apply for the first time in a Western Australian poll for people with disabilities, and is tipped to be the forerunner of a much wider use of new technology at future elections. The number of people eligible to vote will top 1.6 million - 200,000 more than four years ago.

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