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Spotlight falls onto public sector governance

"More ministers have fallen, and more promising public service careers diminished, by failures of governance than by inadequate policy," Paul McClintock, McClintock Associates, former Cabinet Secretary in the Australian Government.

The public sector now has no option but to face up to the challenge of improving governance - particularly with governments putting the onus on the private sector to do the same, said the author of a comprehensive new manual, Public Sector Governance - Australia, launched today by leading business information provider CCH.

"From today, Australian Government agencies can be systematic in their approach to governance," said Stephen Bartos, former Deputy Secretary in Australia's Department of Finance and Administration.

"The impact will be enormous. It means they can be more relevant, more effective and, ultimately, less exposed to risks. And good governance means that over time the Australian community can expect better government services."

Bartos called the manual "essential reading" for anyone involved in governance in the public sector. "It is difficult to overestimate the importance of good governance to organisational and personal success in the public sector. The damage that poor governance can do is evident in high profile corporate collapses such as HIH in Australia, Enron in the US and Parmalat in Italy," he said.

"People are now looking to fireproof themselves against such issues - and this manual provides the best 'insurance' they can take out. It enables users to identify potential issues and deal with them. It provides comprehensive reference material which focuses on the way in which public sector organisations are governed and provides crucial guidance on corporate governance. It's the only one that pulls everything together."

Already the manual has been well received by various Government departments, and Dr Peter Shergold, Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, has put his weight behind it. "This is familiar territory to the private sector. Yet, as the manual acknowledges, the environment of the public sector remains distinctive," Dr Shergold stated.

"[Both] for public servants and business leaders the governance arrangements are too often opaque... Corporate governance is an important issue for the public sector. I have found this manual to be an extraordinarily useful guide to understanding the ongoing processes of direction, control, delivery, assessment and accountability that help underpin democratic government."

Public Sector Governance - Australia is aimed at all those involved in governance in the public sector, including members of public body boards and committees (both directory and advisory), senior public sector managers and both internal and external advisers on public sector governance matters.

It is available in hard copy and online and is designed to be easy to read and use. Not only does it detail legislations, it also provides important tips, checklists, practical examples, scenarios and actual case studies. It also deals with controversial issues such as the MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) case and 'children overboard' affair, outlining particular weaknesses.

There are 12 chapters, and specific areas covered include:

  • Foundations of public sector governance

  • Accountability, responsibility and transparency

  • Ethics and probity

  • Role of public sector boards

  • Measuring performance

  • Governance within a public sector organisation

  • Effective public sector boards and committees

  • Composition and conduct of a board or committee

  • Managing a commercialised public sector entity

  • Managing your risks

In light of the upcoming election, a key section of the manual covers how to deal with Ministers and ministerial staff. "We have a very different public sector now, and dealing with ministerial staff is something that has evolved considerably over the past 10 years," Bartos explained.

Stephen Bartos wrote the manual with the advice and assistance of a highly experienced reference group consisting of Paul McClintock, principal of private investment banking group McClintock Associates and former Secretary to Cabinet and former Head of the Cabinet Policy Unit in the Australian Government; Peter Kennedy, who has been involved with the Commonwealth Public Service since 1966 and is the Integrity Advisor to the Australian Taxation Office; Len Early, principal of Len Early Pty Ltd, which provides advice on public sector policy and financial management; and Linda Nicholls, a corporate advisor and Chair of Australia Post.

"Public Sector Governance - Australia is a first for CCH," said Sharon Bennett, Managing Director, CCH Publishing Australia. "We have developed a new service especially for the government sector, one that complements our other service offerings. We are confident this service will effectively answer specific governance needs."

About CCH Australia Limited

CCH Australia is a leading provider of information for business professionals, serving legal, tax, business and education markets. CCH Australia is part of the Wolters Kluwer group of companies, one of the world's largest business publishing alliances. The Group employs more than 19,000 people with interests in 26 countries in Europe, North America and Asia Pacific, representing annual sales of more than EUR 3 billion in 1999.

CCH Australia has spent over 30 years assisting professionals to establish and maintain their practices and businesses. It is renowned for the reliability of its content, the breadth and depth of information provided, and customer service. Not only is the company intent on maintaining that reputation, but it is determined to become the premium knowledge partner for Australian professionals.

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