Following recent state and federal Budget announcements, we have seen genuine empathy and concern for the disadvantaged and lower socio-economic households and a desire to ensure fairness for those who are impacted.
However there is also a concern that Australians are suffering a 'reality gap' regarding the state of the nation’s finances. At Senate Estimates, the head of the Australian Government Treasury, Dr Martin Parkinson PSM, made the following comments:"...there is a gap between community expectations and what the government can realistically do and there needs to be a frank and community wide discussion to reset expectations. There is a gap between what citizens want from government and what they are willing to pay for."1
How do we facilitate this dialogue?
In the United Kingdom, we are seeing bold approaches to public sector reform. In England and Wales, 41 Police and Crime Commissioners (known as PCCs) were elected by their community. Their role is to ensure community needs are met as effectively as possible and to improve local relationships through building confidence and restoring trust. The PCCs have responsibility for a combined police force area budget of some £8 million.2
"We know citizens are more empowered to participate in the reform debate, and are generally interested in doing so. But do they want some critical public service areas such as policing, child protection, probation and parole to be left in the hands of traditional government?"
National Sector Leader, Justice & Security
A much more controversial reform from the UK is the potential privatisation of child protection3
which follows a similar exercise in relation to probation and parole in 2013.4
Would we consider this in Australia?
Or is it a step too far? Do we need to be open to the discussion in an effort to achieve enhanced outcomes? Is it reasonable for the public to demand that we do something different to respond to confronting facts such as 14.2 percent of offenders on community based orders reoffend in two years?5
Reform is not straight forward and does take time. New models of service delivery may be more effective, however, citizens need to be engaged and understand the purpose of the change.
A concept Professor Paul 't Hart calls 'engagement pressure', that is, the evolution of community engagement from an age of ‘tell and sell’ to ‘involve and empower’, will inevitably develop a new and increased capability within the public sector. It may well lead governments here to seriously entertain the type of reforms being considered or implemented in the UK.
A vision for Victoria Police
The Chief Commissioner Ken Lay recently launched the Victoria Police Blue Paper: A Vision for Victoria Police in 2025
What this document sets out is the changing nature of crime and how policing needs to evolve to meet these demands, especially in a fiscally constrained environment.
The Blue Paper is a road map to reform and exactly the type of bipartisan debate needed in the community to ensure our public services remain relevant to citizens needs.1 http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/public-has-reality-gap-martin-parkinson-20140604-39jge.html
5 Productivity Commission, Government Services in Australia 2014 http://www.pc.gov.au/gsp/rogs