RG Menzies Essay Series

The Menzies Research Centre publishes the R G Menzies Essays – a series of timely contributions to policy discussion by leading Australian and international thinkers.

Fit For Service: Meeting the demand of the Asian middle class by Andrew Bragg

Fit For Service: Meeting the demand of the Asian middle class by Andrew Bragg

*PUBLICATION AVAILABLE FOR PURCHASE NOW* 

The MRC is pleased to offer the fifth R. G. Menzies Essay: Fit For Service: Meeting the demand of the Asian middle class by Andrew Bragg, former Director of Policy & Research at the Menzies Research Centre. The monograph was launched by the Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP, Prime Minister of Australia, on 8 February 2017. 

The Menzies Research Centre publishes the R G Menzies Essays – a series of timely contributions to policy discussion by leading Australian and international thinkers.

Australia’s prosperity is built upon free, open markets and creative trade policy. At a time of mounting protectionist sentiment, our North Asian trade agreements open the door to increased service exports to the region's rapidly growing middle class. But does Australia have what it takes to capitalise on these deals? Fit For Service examines what Australia must do to succeed in exporting the know-how that is disrupting the 21st century.

AndrewPortraitAndrew Bragg - MRC Director of Policy & Research 

The Promise of Digital Government by Angus Taylor MP

The Promise of Digital Government by Angus Taylor MP

The MRC is pleased to offer the fourth R. G. Menzies Essay: The Promise of Digital Government: Transforming Public Services, Regulation, and Citizenship by Angus Taylor MP, Assistant Minister for Cities and Digital Transformation.

The Menzies Research Centre publishes the R G Menzies Essays – a series of timely contributions to policy discussion by leading Australian and international thinkers.

Digital disruption has transformed the marketplace improving our lives in ways we never imagined. But by comparison government services seem clunky, sluggish and slipshod. Taylor says it's time governments caught up. 

The transformative power of digital technology can disrupt traditional lacklustre public services, redefine regulation and make governments more efficient, transparent and accountable. Crucially, digital innovation puts the citizen back at the centre of the modern state in line with fundamental liberal and conservative principles.

AN EXTRACT FROM THE PROMISE OF DIGITAL GOVERNMENT:

As a new member of parliament in 2013, I was immediately struck by the demands on my electorate office. I was expecting to deal with a long list of policy issues and political feedback. While that is an important part of my work, I found myself running a customer call centre for a range of government services from telecommunications to welfare, immigration, health, law and order, and education. 

Constituents don’t want to be lectured about the three tiers of government, the separation of powers or even the separation between public and private sector. They just want solutions to their problems. When word gets around that the local member can solve problems, the flow of calls and emails increases even more.

While my interaction with constituents was welcome, it struck me that much of what governments did could be done a lot more efficiently and effectively. I began thinking about how much time and money federal government agencies such as Centrelink were wasting because of appallingly inefficient systems.

The embrace of digital technology by the private sector has changed much of our lives for the better, increasing choice, speed, productivity and consumer satisfaction. By comparison, governments appear clunky and unresponsive. It is little wonder that voters throughout the developed world are increasingly cynical about government.

Expectations are high but delivery is low, and containment of spending growth seems like a pipedream. Citizens are disengaged, cynical and fickle.

The shift to digital in the provision of private sector services has been rapid and customers like it. Seventy-five per cent of Australian bank transactions are conducted online or through mobile devices. Despite extensive branch closures and regular “bank bashing”, satisfaction levels with banks are the highest on record. Much of this is being aided by high levels of internet connectivity. Meanwhile, banks have reduced costs substantially, passing a large portion of the savings through to customers via low-interest margins on loans and deposits.

Similar patterns to the results in banking have emerged in travel, insurance, music, media and books. In the airline industry, for instance, more than 75 per cent of travellers coming to Australia plan their trips online and roughly half purchase online, according to Tourism Australia. Even for product sales, we are seeing rapid growth in digital interactions and transactions. Woolworths claims that 83 per cent of Australians are regularly using self-scanners in its supermarkets.

The equivalent performance in the public sector would mean high levels of satisfaction with government, lower taxes and better ser­vices. This has not been the case. Government already has a great deal of information about each of us, most of which is not used in any interaction. The private sector can only wish for this level of knowledge as a starting point.

This is all the more remarkable when we consider that government’s role is focused on services, information sharing and consultation rather than providing products. Payments are an important part of these interactions, but they extend much further to include permissions, information sharing, applications and registrations, complaints and resolution as well as digital services such as e-health. Examples include submitting tax returns, applying for a passport or licence, and claiming Medicare and welfare benefits.

Deloitte Access Economics has estimated that across Australian state and federal governments there are 811 million transactions each year, about 40 per cent of which are still completed using the traditional channels of telephone, post and face-to-face.

Most discussions of benefits from digitisation start and finish with customer service improvements and direct efficiencies in reduced customer service costs. Often forgotten are the bigger opportunities for compliance, risk management, payment integrity and program targeting, with savings far beyond direct efficiencies.

Integrity and compliance in government payments offer one of the greatest opportunities for efficiency and effectiveness of government spending. Even a small improvement in payments for health and welfare would yield benefits worth many billions each year. Identifying savings or revenue opportunities from better government practices or better targeted spending requires access to quality data. Through digitisation, governments can increase easy access to large databases for analysis. Identifying errors, abuse or defrauding of big-dollar government programs, especially health and welfare, has been a source of significant government savings around the world, but real-time access to quality datasets is a prerequisite to realising these opportunities.

Once these datasets are well established and accessible, they also will provide a much better fact base for better targeting of government programs and spending, beyond just compliance. The real impact of government programs on key outcomes such as employment or health is rarely measured well. In practice, it is inevitable that much of that money can be better spent. But until we can get access to integrated datasets on individuals’ health, welfare, education and access to programs, as well as the impact of these programs across time, refocusing spending will continue to be extremely difficult, powered by emotional political resistance.

Similarly, access to quality data for traffic movements would allow a shift towards better infrastructure funding models, with road user charges reflecting actual usage rather than using fuel usage as a proxy. Perhaps more important, it would enable better targeting of road funding payments to owners (including state and local governments) based on actual usage. This is possible only if the relevant data is captured and used.

Likewise, better data offers the potential for better use of assets such as roads and carparks. Whether through better signalling or real-time access to information about congestion, improved infrastructure use is typically much cheaper than new investment.

The direct benefits to governments and citizens of digitising government are also much larger and broader in scope than is typically realised, totalling more than $27 billion according to Deloitte Access. There are the obvious direct cost savings, but the benefits extend to earlier payment and significant reductions in storage and advertising spend.

Two very simple ideas are central to capturing the potential of digital government.

First, technology offers the potential for substantially reduced costs alongside improved and better targeted government services. Disruption in the delivery of an increasingly complex array of government services is possible in ways that previously were never anticipated. In defence, health, education, policing or food labelling, every aspect of government needs to be re-examined with an eye to what can and should be done differently to reduce costs and improve services.

Second, empowered con­sumers and citizens can drive reform in ways that traditional political processes can’t, particularly as we increase competition and contestability in the provision of services such as aged care and disability. If public sector unions want to block innovations that voters understand and want, voters can apply political pressure. When vested interests get in the way of sensible reforms, transparency will help to shed light on their undue influence. Not only can we disrupt traditional lacklustre public service delivery but we can redefine regulation and how citizens and customers regulate services for themselves.

These two powerful ideas put the citizen or the customer back at the centre of the work of the modern state, in line with fundamental liberal and conservative principles. Government has become a self-serving beast, and digital technology offers the potential to tame government and refocus it for the benefit of all.

Many conservatives and traditional small-government liberals have given up on the idea of smaller, more effective government that empowers citizens to realise their own aspirations. But all is not lost. Efficient government sharply focused on customers and citizens can make a major contribution to reasserting this ideal.

Digital technology offers the promise of containing growth in spending, vastly improved ser­vices and genuine reform. It is time for Australian governments to step up and embrace this extraordinary opportunity.

maxresdefaultAngus Taylor is Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister for Cities and Digital Transformation. 

RG Menzies Essay: Game Plan

RG Menzies Essay: Game Plan

The Menzies Research Centre publishes the R G Menzies Essays – a series of timely contributions to policy discussion by leading Australian and international thinkers.

Launched by the Hon Stuart Robert MP in 2015, Assistant Minister for Defence, Game Plan: The Case for a New Australian Grand Strategy by Professor Ross Babbage is the third R G Menzies Essay publication. Former defence official and Managing Director of Strategy International Professor Ross Babbage makes the case for a new Australian defence strategy, arguing that for the first time since the Second World War Australia is now close to the centre of potential conflict and must lift its game. 

Click here to buy online

Professor Babbage is a former senior defence official, Founder of the Kokoda Foundation, Foundation Governor and Fellow of the Institute for Regional Security, and Managing Director of Strategy International. Game Plan costs $14.95 and is published by Connor Court Publishing. 

Quiet Achievers: The New Zealand path to reform

Quiet Achievers: The New Zealand path to reform

The R G Menzies Essay is a new forum for intelligent discussion about policy, progress and prosperity.

The series will deliver fresh ideas and serious policy thinking in clear and concise prose. Its authors will not be guided by ideology or dogma, but by the need for rational, pragmatic arguments for reform from the centre.

In the first R G Menzies Essay, Quiet Achievers: The New Zealand Path to Reform, published in December 2014, Oliver Hartwich compares the achievements of New Zealand’s National Party‐led government in reducing government spending and improving the tax and welfare systems since 2008 with Australia’s poor reform record under Labor.

Dr Hartwich argues that New Zealand has outpaced Australia in economic reform in the last six years making it better equipped to reap the benefits of the Asian century.

He says while the Australian political agenda since 2007 has been dominated by personalities rather than policy, New Zealand has been making significant strides in streamlining its economy and positioning itself as a competitive trading nation.

New Zealand this year rose to 17th place on the World Economic Forum’s global competitive index while Australia slipped back to 22nd place. Growth in New Zealand’s per capita GDP has exceeded that in Australia for the last three years.

Hartwich says while New Zealand’s overall per capita GDP still lags behind that in Australia, there are signs of a reversal in Australia’s and New Zealand’s economic fortunes, in part because of the economic reforms of John Key’s government.

Click here to buy online or click here to download a copy of the essay

Dr Oliver Hartwich is the Executive Director of The New Zealand Initiative (www.nzinitiative.org.nz), an independent public policy think tank supported by chief executives of major New Zealand businesses.

Before joining the Initiative, he was a Research Fellow at the Centre for Independent Studies (Sydney), the Chief Economist at Policy Exchange (London), and an advisor in the UK House of Lords. His publications have covered a wide range of topics, including housing, transport, local government, and global economic issues. He holds a Master's degree in Economics and Business Administration and a Ph.D. in Law from Bochum University (Germany).

Contact Information

(02) 6273 5608
From outside Australia: + 61 2 6273 5608
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

RG Menzies House
Cnr Blackall & Macquarie Sts
Barton ACT 2600
Australia