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Public Service Performance

Question asked in Parliament on Sep 20, 2016

The Hon. J.A. DARLEY ( 14:54 :35 ): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation a question about the Public Service.

Leave granted.

The Hon. J.A. DARLEY: The Premier recently outlined at least three times in the media that he wanted to improve the performance of the public sector. At a Budget and Finance Committee meeting recently, the head of DPC outlined some of the things being done in their department to improve Public Service performance. Can the minister advise what is being done to improve Public Service performance in the minister's agencies and departments?

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Climate Change) ( 14:55 :20 ): I thank the Hon. Mr John Darley for his excellent question. In fact, my agencies—I will speak about DEWNR in the first instance at least, but also SA Water and a couple of others—have been assiduous in trying to determine how they can better serve the public of South Australia.

I think I have spoken in this place previously about how we have instituted a really novel approach of asking people what they want to see in their national parks in terms of the government expenditure of about $10 million, which was promised at the last state election, on our peri-urban national parks. Rather than having the agency just go off and do what they think is best in terms of upgrading the parks with that money, we actually instituted a very comprehensive system, I suppose, of conducting surveys and forums for local members, local members of the community and local stakeholders, essentially asking them, 'What would you like to see in the parks? What would encourage you to use parks more and what sort of facilities should that money spent on?'

This process was really quite eye-opening for the agency members, as I understand it. They very much enjoyed it, to the extent that we are rolling out this sort of engagement process with the community over many, many areas of what we do as a Public Service. Indeed, in the establishment of the Adelaide International Bird Sanctuary, for example, I believe we have over 700 people on the contact list or the mailing list for that.

There are a huge number of community groups, including local government, the Vietnamese Farmers Association, various other community groups and environmental groups, of course. They have all come together to form a group called the Collective to actually guide the development of the national park around the Adelaide International Bird Sanctuary. That is, again, a very novel approach. Normally, an environment agency would go off and use its expertise as park managers to design the park itself and present it as a fait accompli to the community, but in this instance we turned it around and said, 'No, in fact, we are going to talk to the community and see what they have to offer us in terms of how we should design this area of the Adelaide International Bird Sanctuary and turn it into a national park.'

Lo and behold, when asked, community members came forward in large numbers, many of them with incredible areas of expertise, and offered themselves up to be part of this process. Many community members see some economic advantage for them, because over winter the birds from the Adelaide International Bird Sanctuary fly all the way up through the East Asian-Australasian Flyway, through South-East Asia, Vietnam, China, Russia, and some of them even to Alaska.

The ability for some of the businesses in the north of Adelaide to build on that international connection with the bird sanctuary and the birds that fly—some of them are tagged so you can watch them fly up through Siberia. Some of those businesses see an advantage in terms of their export markets and employment prospects as well. If you can badge yourself as a business that is being supportive of sustainable development and supportive of the Adelaide International Bird Sanctuary right next door to your business in the north of Adelaide, they see some potential there to increase their export abilities.

It is a remarkable set of achievements in terms of changing the way a Public Service agency sees itself as being the holder of the expertise into an agency which now goes out of its way to collaborate with community, to ask community how they would like to see money expended and what sort of initiatives they would like to help us with in terms of the Adelaide International Bird Sanctuary. We are changing the whole impact of this collaborative approach into everything that we do in the environment agency.

In terms of SA Water, honourable members will recall that SA Water has changed dramatically its customer approach. Since the incident out at Paradise where there was that major flooding event from some broken water mains, which got captured by a retention bank that had been built by council along the Torrens and flooded out several homes, SA Water has turned around its customer focus and has now instituted a customer liaison team that goes out doorknocking in collaboration with the technical team.

So the technical team is out to fix the problem, the physical problem of the pipe, but the customer support team is out there knocking on doors more broadly than just the immediate street where the pipe is being fixed to advise customers about the water outage, how much time it is expected it will take to fix the problem, and advising them of what they can make available to those people be it in terms of a voucher—a $100 voucher in some circumstances—or packaged water that can be provided, or in more severe cases as we saw in Paradise, how we can assist them with their insurance companies to make claims and also for temporary accommodation. So, again, the Public Service including SA Water and my other agency, the environment agency, is doing fantastic work in terms of changing the way in which it thinks, and changing the way in which it sees the customer they need to respond to.

I will finish with the EPA. The EPA has gone through a dramatic change in how it deals with stakeholders and it has been conducting forums this year and last year with community stakeholders right around the state. I think recently they were just over in Port Lincoln on the Eyre Peninsula talking to Fisheries stakeholders about wastewater discharge and SA Water's sewer network which could compromise the water that is being reused there by local councils to water their ovals and parks. So, again, EPA is out there engaging with stakeholders, holding community forums, talking about its way forward, and actually setting up a very good relationship with local businesses.

One business springs to mind that came to see me in my very early days in this portfolio who were having terrible problems with their wastewater management in terms of their meat industry causing hugely offensive odours for the local community and really impacting on their business. The EPA sat down with them and worked through a process of how they could actually help them with the treatment of their water programs and now that industry is thriving and it is getting awards for the quality of its environmental systems and its sustainable use of water. It is hiring more people and putting more people into work and advancing export markets on the back of its fantastic sustainable development.

I can say that my agencies at least have taken the leadership of the Premier in this matter very seriously. They have been engaging with communities very seriously to design either a park or the way that they propose to engage with businesses and stakeholders, and I think that is going to spread like wildfire through the Public Service because those public servants who are engaged in this are finding it incredibly rewarding.

The Hon. J.A. DARLEY ( 15:02 :03 ): Can the minister advise whether these departments are looking at their middle and upper management structures to improve the performance?

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Climate Change) ( 15:02 :15 ): I'm not quite sure what the honourable member's question pertains to. Public Service organisation is a matter for the chief executive but I will inquire of her, in terms of DEWNR, as to what her plans are in that situation and I will bring back a response.


Feb 14, 2017

In reply to the Hon. J.A. DARLEY ( 20 September 2016 )

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Climate Change) :

The Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, the Minister for Water Murray, and the Minister for Climate Change has received the following advice:

Yes, the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources (DEWNR) is always striving to improve their structures to ensure they are responsive to the needs of the South Australian community.