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Tanner “Unsheathes his Sword”

by Staff Writers •
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Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner’s breakfast presentation to the ACT Division of IPAA late last week contained little if you were expecting a detailed breakdown of the Gershon report’s findings and recommendations. Indeed, the Minister explained he has yet to read it fully, and expected to do so over the weekend, but had received a briefing from Sir Peter before his return to the UK.

As per media reports, Tanner described the recommendations as “significant”, encompassing important “administrative reforms and cultural changes” which Sir Peter was confident would achieve “substantial savings” over the next 2 to 3 years. The Government will be working on an implementation plan over the next 2-3 months and he committed to publicly release a copy of the report along with the Government‟s response.

The Minister then turned to „coordinated procurement contracting”, an issue previously reported in the medium. Curiously, he then diverted his comments from ICT procurement to travel, explaining how the Rudd Government had committed to more balanced air travel arrangements, especially on the Sydney-Canberra route, with the intention that “smaller, regional carriers” (read VirginBlue on that route) should achieve a 25% market share. Agencies had been instructed of this requirement, and to assist in implementing the policy, were required to report quarterly to Finance.

The first of these reports (covering the June quarter) has just been received, and it wasn‟t good news: VirginBlue‟s share was just 12%. Lindsay Tanner then named and shamed the miscreants – DVA at just 1%, and Centrelink 3%; only 8 of the 25 portfolios had achieved 20% or greater (luckily, this included Finance; DBCDE received the gold star with 37%).

In a room full of senior public servants including several CIOs, Minister Tanner then reminded them of their compliance obligations under the FMA Act, and told the audience he had asked the Secretary of his Department to raise this compliance issue with Agency heads.

What was the purpose of this curious diversion? In most cultures, there are variants on the metaphor known as “unsheathing the sword”, showing that one is prepared to take action. And that‟s what it appeared the Minister was doing.

One of the challenges in ICT planning and procurement Tanner spoke of is striking the balance between centralisation, with the benefits of combined buying power and resourcing to plan and deliver major projects, and the exact, „fit for purpose‟ precision of decentralisation. There are many steps in place to facilitate this middle ground, including the various AGIMO frameworks, coordinated procurement and establishment of Volume Sourcing Arrangements. But, to work, these need a level of enforcement. With the example of air travel, Tanner has shown he is prepared to act.

And, no, the obvious question (about politician‟s travel performance over the same period) was not asked!

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