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ANZSOG, ANU and Value for Money

Launch of Value for Money: Budget and Financial Management Reform in the People's Republic of China, Taiwan and Australia, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University, Canberra, 19 March 2018

Thank you for giving me the privilege of launching what is, as ANZSOG Dean Ken Smith and John Wanna have just highlighted, the 50th title in ANU Press’s ANZSOG series. It is a significant occasion not only for Andrew Podger and the large cast of fellow editors and authors who have produced this excellent collection of papers, but for ANZSOG itself and the ANU.

I’m delighted to be joining you not only in my capacity as ANU Chancellor, but as a longstanding supporter, and – as a Cabinet minister for thirteen years – ministerial participant in the process, of trying to improve the quality of public administration both nationally and internationally. It’s never been the most glamorous of causes, but one that impacts far more than most on the lives of our ordinary citizens. Having a professional, non-partisan public service is absolutely crucial for good government and the efficient and effective delivery of public services.

ANZSOG. Improving the quality of public administration has of course been the central aspiration, from the outset, of the Australian and New Zealand School of Government, which came into existence in 2002. Successful institutions always have many fathers, and ANZSOG is no exception. The inaugural Dean, Alan Fels, has attributed the conception of the idea of a national school, if not necessarily a multi-campus one, to Dr John Paterson, who spelt it out in a seminar paper in 1998, and whose towering contributions to Australian public administration are recognized in ANZSOG’s annual John Paterson Oration. I don’t claim to have been present at the creation, but John was a close and longstanding friend of mine, and I can recall having a number of conversations with him over the years, as far back as the mid-1980s, as his idea was germinating, and encouraging him to develop it further.

‘Towering’ is, of course, not a word otherwise usually associated with John Paterson, whose most visibly distinctive characteristic, which contributed to his tragically early death in 2003, was his diastrophic dwarfism. While never afraid to break a little crockery along the way, and incurring a fair bit of enmity as a result from those who didn't share his reforming zeal, what probably endeared him most of all to those who knew him closely was his brilliant sense of humour, which did not spare his own disability. I’m afraid in that context I can’t resist repeating the story I retail in my recently published memoir. On one memorable occasion, John – an excellent trumpeter who loved not only the jazz club scene but also, for some reason, louche nightclubs – insisted after dinner that we visit, with our respective wives, some particularly seedy spot in St Kilda. At some point in the evening the women felt the urge to dance, which I rarely do and didn’t then, which led my wife Merran to say, as she often does in these situations, ‘Well, we’ll just get up without you’. To which John replied: ‘Sorry. This place seems to have pretty relaxed standards, but I think they’ll draw the line at two lesbians and a dwarf.’


When ANZSOG was first established back in 2002, the formal initiative to develop a new generation of public service leaders through a multi-jurisdiction based national school came from Terry Moran as then head of the Victorian Premiers Department. The Commonwealth supported the idea, so long as it was genuinely a collaboration across Commonwealth, State, Territory and (later) NZ jurisdictions, and so long as it included an ongoing research agenda, to keep its teaching fresh and to contribute to the practice of public administration. While some took longer than others, eventually all Australasian jurisdictions came on board, with universities across the country joining the network in a unique ‘virtual’ school of government.

ANU was an early partner in the enterprise, with Andrew Podger the key player: as then Australian Public Service Commissioner, he negotiated with ANU to establish a new ANZSOG chair that would also serve as director of ANZSOG’s research. John Wanna was appointed the first Sir John Bunting Professor of Public Administration here at ANU in 2003, a position he continues to hold with great distinction. Andrew himself joined ANU as an adjunct professor when he retired from the APS in 2005; he is now an Honorary Professor of Public Policy working closely with John Wanna, not least in the writing and editing of the book we are launching today.

Value for Money: Budget and Financial Management Reform in the People’s Republic of China, Taiwan and Australia joins now the 49 other books that ANU Press has now published in its ANZSOG series, covering a very wide range of subjects in the fields of public administration and politics.

Importantly, many focus on practical challenges facing today’s public servants, from contracting out and working with NGOs to deliver public services, to caretaker arrangements, social cost-benefit analysis and working under austerity. They offer not only new academic research but also the experience of professional practitioners. Proof of their usefulness is revealed by the number of downloads, and the continuing downloads of the early books.

Linking research to practice is, as we all know, not easy: academia and the public service can be very different worlds, with measures of academic worth and prestige, both for individuals and institutions, not always giving sufficient recognition to the utility and importance of crisp, practical, outcome-focused policy research. Yet research of a high intellectual standard, strongly evidence-based and with strongly-argued analysis, is absolutely essential to high performing public service policy advising and program delivery.

That has been, of course, an ANU raison d’etre, particularly here at the Crawford School of Public Policy, where ANZOG’s ANU arm, a central part of its national network, is one of a family of high-quality, policy-oriented research and teaching centres. It is our current ambition to have a more coherent and coordinated campus-wide approach to policy-focused research, teaching and outreach, and our new Public Policy and Societal Impact Hub under the direction of Sean Innis will have a crucial role in leading that engagement.

Value for Money. The book we are launching today is the product of a collaboration established in late 2009 – the Greater China Australia Dialogue on Public Administration – across a range of universities from Australia, the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan. This has involved annual workshops since 2011 on issues of common interest, with the participants building an increasingly rich understanding of public administration practice and developments in each others’ jurisdictions. Among those involved at the Australian end has been the Institute of Public Administration Australia, which has published a number of symposia of papers in the Australian Journal of Public Administration, and whose ACT and Victorian divisions have helped ensure practitioner involvement.

The Dialogue has been just one small, but highly valued, part of ANU’s efforts to study China and to engage with Chinese universities and governments. It obviously also fits well with the recommendation in Ken Henry’s Asian Century White Paper that Australia broaden and deepen its interaction with China, whether in arts and culture, sport, business, academia or government, and the present Government’s recent White Paper on Foreign Affairs which also advocates such deeper engagement.

The book’s origins in this Dialogue explains what might otherwise have been thought to be the rather idiosyncratic juxtaposition in the same volume of papers on financial administration in such disparate systems as Australia, the PRC and Taiwan. But in fact it makes for an intriguing read, making abundantly clear that the topic – ensuring value for money in in budgeting and financial management, focusing on methods of ensuring effective priority-setting, performance and accountability – is equally relevant for all governments of all countries at all times.

It’s also clear that, whatever the cultural and political differences between the three systems here studied, each of us has something to learn from the others. Take the papers from Taiwan here on its performance budgeting and performance auditing reforms; and developments regarding infrastructure funding and local government challenges. Or from the PRC on anti-corruption efforts and performance management; the increasing use of third parties to evaluate performance; or – of interest to a wider range of readers than just public finance specialists – budget reforms and challenges under President Xi Jinping.

For Australian practitioners, the immediate interest of the book will no doubt be its very meaty chapters addressing, inter alia, the development and implementation of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013; the role of our Intergenerational Reports; performance auditing at Commonwealth and State levels; and an intriguing account of how evaluation can positively guide ongoing improvements in service delivery, the particular case studied here being employment services.

Reading the framing chapters by the editors introducing and concluding the book, and the chapters by John Wanna and Mike Woods on value-for-money budgeting and projecting long-term fiscal outcomes, I couldn't help but be mentally transported back to those endless days I spent around the Cabinet table over thirteen years battling to get my departmental budgets past the Expenditure Review Committee, and above all our relentlessly driven Finance Minister Peter Walsh, being driven comprehensively crazy by the cuts and changes being demanded but knowing that the discipline was necessary.

I cannot imagine that any country anywhere has ever had a more passionately, obsessively value-for-money driven overlord than Senator Peter Walsh – and while I guess the contributors from the PRC and Taiwan to this book might have found it a little bemusing – I can’t help but think it could well have been dedicated to his memory.

Congratulations to the editors, authors and ANU Press publishers. This a valuable, well presented collection, a great example of the practical policy-focused research being done at ANZSOG and the ANU, and a fine way to mark the half-century of titles now chalked up in the collaboration between ANZSOG and the ANU Press. I have pleasure in declaring Value for Money duly launched.