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O'Farrell tries running before walking

By Colin Arthur - posted Monday, 2 May 2011

Barrie O'Farrell got one thing very right last week. His Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian announced that train trip times would be collated and published instead of Labor's laughable on-time running "statistics". Her task will be an easy task as driver logs and other data are already collected by the CityRail and unions for internal as well as ABS, ministerial, publicity and Council on the Cost and Quality of Government purposes. O'Farrell got other announcements a bit right.

The Integrated Transport Authority was promised in the Coalition's policy sets and is well overdue if not too late. There was the emphasis on front line service delivery, with cleanliness, reliability, safety and efficiency being the core values. This is commonsense and common across the world in systems which give more than lip service to customers as Labor did. Berejiklian has left most of the managers in place and was smart in moving Rodd Staples from a management to a project role which is his background, his having worked on the SpeedRail and other projects.

Two major mistakes were made in preparing the ITA policy. Berejiklian included procurement; and O'Farrell said the integration would take 12 weeks. Neither were mentioned in the policy platform and have the appearance of knee-jerks. Rail purchasing is known to be corrupt and an executive put in charge of it was identified by the Sydney Morning Herald's editorialist as being involved in the management process which led to corruption. Moreover ICAC reports were ignored and corrupt contractors were re-engaged by the corrupt managers. That corruption has not been cleaned out and will be transferred to an organisation which is rightly mainly orientated to "planning". Management of complex purchasing is not their role.


The RTA's and State Transit's purchasing have their problems too. Procurement management is big enough and complex enough to be put in a re-engineered private/public agency which looks and sounds like a kitchen whizz. It is loud, fast and chops up things faster than the eye can see. Who believes that rail, road and bus/ferry people can do that? Moreover, did Berejiklian check the relative seniority of the executives involved and how will she feel if the rail people end up on top, one wonders.

This is partly where the 12 weeks comes in. O'Farrell has made the performance indicator "time", not quality, integrity or efficiency. It is not credible: the bureaucrats will have no time to do more than jockey for accommodation and car spaces. Old problems will be implanted. Having appointed the best man to fix public service ethics and management, Professor Peter Shergold could have been profitably employed in steering a thorough re-organisation, getting the top right and then supporting the top as the processes cascade.

The private sector's engineers would be especially interested in setting up a professional purchasing agency. Labor had IT separate from other purchasing, with Police and other bodies running their own races. The Commerce people were known to have skills issues, indeed this writer was called in a decade ago to show them how to do CPI adjustments. The David Block review and John Hannaford under Nick Greiner intended that this be done in a UK way, the government (especially Treasury) working with the privateers to do a better job than either could do by themselves. This is one occasion where a UK Audit person could show the way to the benefit of O'Farrell in the long term.

This is more than a little worrying. Nick Greiner was strong and sound but made a few personnel mistakes in Premier's, Cabinet, Treasury, Planning (the fatal Metherell episode) and other key posts. It is critical that O'Farrel does not make silly mistakes and puts strong and sensible people into the ITA and procurement roles, separately. O'Farrell would do well to listen to Shergold and Baird as well as portfolio ministers in getting his formulae right.

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About the Author

Colin Arthur was a high ranking New South Wales public servant in an earlier incarnation.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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