The New South Wales Ageing and Disability Commissioner has cast doubt on the ability of public servants to deliver the sweeping changes the government is promising to the aged care system.

The government has pledged to overhaul the way aged care is delivered in Australia and introduce a new Aged Care Act in response to the findings of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, which uncovered systemic flaws in the current system.

Commissioner Robert Fitzgerald, who has spent the last 20 years in the public service, including as a commissioner with the Productivity Commission, told a key aged care conference on Wednesday: “I’m a great fan of public servants … and I like statutory agencies.”

However, he said there has been a reduction in the capacity of governments to deliver and implement significant reform in Australia, with a tendency to consistently repeat the same mistakes.

Robert Fitzgerald

“Australia is capable of enormous change and reform,” he said during a keynote address at the ACSA National Summit 2022 in Canberra.

“We could talk about early childhood development reforms, we could talk about reforms in a whole range of other areas.

“But what has become a pattern of flaws in the design and systemic failures in the implementation in most of those reform strategies, we can’t afford to do that in aged care.

“The number of dollars, the number of people affected, the number of workers affected, the number of services affected, it’s too great.”

Commercial in confidence a roadblock to reform

Commissioner Fitzgerald said the reduction in the capacity and competence of the public service to implement reform is well recognised. “Anybody who’s honest will tell you that, but the way about that is not getting more consultants,” he said.

He said the only way forward was to sit down with representatives of the aged care sector and engage in hard negotiation. The government must accept transparency if that is to occur, he said. That meant putting on the table all the information it has and sharing it openly with the sector, with aged care providers expected to do the same.

“The notion of commercial in confidence has destroyed my public trust in the governance of bureaucracies, because they won’t release the information which should be publicly available,” the Commissioner said.

“I hope in this space transparency is embraced by the government – whomever that might be – and the department and the sector.

“It didn’t happen in the past, and it’s got nothing to do with which party is in power. This is a structural issue within the public sector.”

Commission Fitzgerald said very few Commonwealth bureaucrats has experience in service delivery, in contrast to state bureaucrats who often come up from areas like health, education, community services or justice.

 “If you’re dealing with people that haven’t had that experience – they’re great people, good thinkers – but that thought needs to be supplemented by those and actually deliver,” he said.

This story originally appeared on Government News

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