- ticket title
- European Commission Denies Knowledge of Reports of ‘Violations’ by Libya Coast Guard Elements
- Cross-border Movement Back to Normal at Ras Jdeir Crossing
- General Assembly Advocates Labour Rights, Ending Illicit Wildlife Trade, Adopting 6 Resolutions as It Concludes Seventy-Third Session
- Libya: Two commanders allied to east-based Haftar killed in strike near Tripoli
- IAEA and Islamic Development Bank Launch Women’s Cancers Partnership Initiative
Two weeks before Christmas, after an emotional morning at a memorial service for the victims of the Lindt café siege, Baird returned to his office to tackle human tragedy of a different kind.
Seated around a long table in the premier’s board room on level 20 of the Martin Place suite were more than a dozen senior bureaucrats, ministers and his most trusted advisers.
They’d been summoned by Baird to report on whether there was progress against one of the most intractable social scourges facing the state: domestic violence. So far, the news was not heartening.
Among those at the meeting were ministers Gabrielle Upton and Pru Goward, departmental heads, and top aides to Baird including his departmental boss Blair Comley, chief of staff Bay Warburton, and former editor of The Australian newspaper, Clive Mathieson, who’d come on board to help drive the Premier’s agenda.
Also present was one of Baird’s key appointments, Glenn King.
King, an energetic and affable former banker, had been appointed head of the Premier’s Implementation Unit – a 16-member crack team known internally as the PIU – set up a year earlier to ensure the bureaucracy made measurable progress in a dozen areas which Baird and his ministers had defined as their key priorities.
Little known outside government, Baird was proud enough of the PIU to make it a centrepiece of an address to the National Press Club late last year.
Behind the headlines – poles and wires, greyhounds, councils and tree cutting – this, he said, would be the engine room driving the changes he wanted to be remembered by.
“These Premier’s priorities, when people reflect back I’m sure people will talk about the infrastructure. But my hope is they look back at these priorities and think well this is something we’re going to continue because we know the good that they have achieved,” he told Canberra’s hard-bitten press gallery in late November.
“My hope is the next governments, whenever they come, they do exactly the same thing.”
Few noted at the time what appeared to be Baird paying particular attention to his legacy. This week’s abrupt departure has left NSW government insiders with a burning question.
What now of the PIU? “All of this dies and fades away into bureaucracy unless the premier is personally invested in it” a member of Baird’s inner circle confided this week.
“If you lose focus at the top, you can forget about this. Ultimately it will be up to the new premier to see whether it continues.”
Baird singled out 12 target areas for the PIU – a dramatic sharpening of focus from the 321 targets he’d inherited after taking over as premier.
Those dozen priority areas were in health (especially wait times in emergency departments), youth homelessness, faster housing approvals, job creation, infrastructure, domestic violence, childhood obesity, child protection (reducing the number of high risk children who went in and out of care), litter reduction, greater public sector diversity, improved government services, and education.
In each, there were clear targets set with specific deadlines.
In education, for instance, he announced the government would trial a program in 153 schools to lift the proportion of NSW students in the top two NAPLAN bands by 8 per cent by 2019.
Baird had pinched the PIU idea from former British prime minister Tony Blair who’d decided his first term had been “wasted” (to use Baird’s words) and wanted to achieve more in his second.
Blair brought in trusted education adviser, Michael Barber, to set up and run what became known as the Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit. It was effective enough to inspire a number of other governments around the world to copy the idea, although Baird’s been the only leader to pick it up in Australia.
London-based Barber calls the approach “deliverology”. The daily grind of government bogs leaders down, he told Fairfax Media. Better to choose a few key areas, set very specific targets ,and drive measurable progress there through small, high-powered, data-driven teams working across government.
For a do-er like Baird,a former investment banker, the idea was hugely attractive. “What gets measured gets done,” Baird told the Press Club
He had to invest his own time and energy. There would be monthly updates, and several times a year “deep dives” – such as the domestic violence meeting – to see whether the approach was making a difference.
“To me that’s power,” he said. “If you can get these priorities right at a premier’s desk, a cabinet table, all the way down to a school desk, well it’s working.”
Insiders say some progress is being made. The PIU’s fresh take on hospital data revealed that putting discharge doctors on at weekends would reduce the backlog of hospital beds facing emergency departments on Mondays and Tuesdays. And that many elderly patients in hospital were taking up beds much longer than they needed to because of laggardly decisions over guardianship issues.
Social challenges are much tougher. “On domestic violence we are miles off track – it’s a shocker”, an insider admitted.
Blair’s delivery unit was initially scrapped by successor David Cameron before the Tory government decided it wasn’t such a bad idea after all.
“If I were an incoming leader anywhere, I would look at [keeping or setting up] the equivalent of the PIU,” says Barber, (now Sir Michael)
“I don’t mind whether governments are trying to be small or big, I want them to be effective. Because there is a loss of faith around the world in politics, and if government causes misery, as you see at the extreme end in somewhere like Libya, or if you look at 30 years of incompetent government in Greece, that is a big moral issue.”
It remains to be seen if Baird’s successor feels the same way.