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The New Transport Department, the RTA and Outcomes Management

By John Mant - posted Tuesday, 17 May 2011

The newly elected NSW Coalition government’s hopeful reforms to the Transport Department look much like a small group of us proposed to Labor Premier Carr back in 1995.

Carr had made a statement about the problems of Sydney growing too big and had to follow up with some action.  So he asked me to head an Urban Strategy Group to make recommendations on how Sydney might be better planned and managed.

Early on it was apparent that our job was just to produce another report and not to actually cause any disturbance to the deal the then government had with the public service unions, namely that there would be no real change in anyone’s job.


So my little group of I’ve-seen-it-all-before public servants decided to write a comprehensive report on how the NSW public sector could be restructured to significantly improve effectiveness and efficiency.

It was a time when governments, especially those of NZ and Victoria, in pursuit for improved productivity, had been attempting to separate out the business operations of government and subject them to market testing – the purchaser/provider model.  Kennett (in Victoria) had amalgamated departments by appointed twelve super heads of departments over the 35+ heads of existing agencies.

While the creation of business units led to some increases in efficiency, neither government did what was necessary to improve effectiveness over the long term.   In the main, all that happened was that while the business units were separated out, the old colonial departments continued on, depleted, certainly, and sticky taped at the top, but not defeated. 

The new layer of 12 super senior managers did achieve some better top down coordination, but there was precious little bottom-up change.  Some years after Kennett’s blitzkrieg, I recall being asked by one guild division in a super department to draft amendments to its guild legislation making it clear that that division had the final say in a particular category of decisions. I was not appreciated when I suggested that perhaps the issue should be raised at the weekly meeting of division heads with an administrative, rather than a legislative, solution being devised. It might look like an integrated department but guild warfare continued beneath the surface.

There were several reasons for the job only half being done. Many of the consultants brought in to manage the reforms were from the private sector. Good at business but not good at, indeed, sometimes antipathetic, to government. In Kennett’s case, I suspect he considered the public sector was irredeemable and therefore was to be subjected to concentrated direction by the Premier and Treasurer and the generally competent heads of the super departments, without the need for long-term change.

Kennett got a lot done. But he did not substantially reform the public sector. 


Our little team’s blue print for the structure of the NSW government did not start from the premise that government consisted of agencies that were not yet ready to be transferred to the private sector.

We believed in a role for government, but we also believed the many agencies that had proliferated since the earliest days of the colony were in dire need of fundamental reform.  The colonial model no longer worked and a new one was needed.  

The Colonial Model

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About the Author

John Mant is a retired urban planner and lawyer from Sydney.

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