Governance of Business in Public Sector

Dozens of transparency & governance aficionados gathered at City of Perth Library recently for the first in a series of Business & Sustainability Forums, hosted by the Western Australian chapter of the United Nations Association of Australia (UNAA-WA) to engage local business leaders with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Moderated by UNAA-WA Vice-President Dr. Sandy Chong, whose work spans the private, public and non-profit sectors, the first forum series “Governance of Business in the Public Sector” attracted a diverse range of stakeholders from local, regional, state governments, business and local NGOs. The speakers on the evening were two CEOs of local and regional government, Andrea Selvey (Shire of Dowerin) and Dr Shayne Silcox (Cty of Melville), as well as Michelle Andrews, Deputy Director of General Policy and Reform at the Department of Premier & Cabinet.

The forum presented an excellent opportunity for the cross-pollination of expertise and ideas. As the first speaker, Ms Andrews explained key variables for good governance – culture, leadership, and looking outwards to understand who the Department is working for – and shared her experiences in leading the process of restructure & reform of the WA Public Service.

Andrea Selvey spoke of the unique challenges she faced in her role as the recently-appointed CEO of the Shire of Dowerin, having replaced the former CEO after a major corruption scandal; she also shared the strengths of her close-knit community, as well as the importance of trust-building and wise governance across diverse areas such as hospitals, housing, and community services.

Dr Shayne Silcox offered insight into the workings of the City of Melville, a large and complex LGA offering over 200 products & services, while also being bound to 477 acts for compliance, and managing $1.3 billion in assets requiring multiple business lines with various levels of governance. He discussed the lack of relative lack of trust & flexibility which can occur in governance, as well as the risk-adversity, and the need for an agile, diverse strategic approach which the City is addressing through measures such as participatory budgeting in order to build community engagement and trust.

A particularly important topic addressed during the panel discussion was the difficulties of changemaking when operating in separate “silos” which are part-and-parcel of the Westminster System, and exist within and between government agencies at all levels – national, state and local. The panel also discussed how social media has changed the governance environment, the value of visionary leadership and data-driven target-setting, the barriers presented by current socio-political culture and how these could be addressed.

UNAA-WA Schools Program Coordinator Rees Barrett, whose role involves raising awareness of the Sustainable Development Goals among children and youth, states that “the panellists were superb in the way they analysed and illustrated what it takes to achieve good governance. It was a stimulating experience with authentic and highly relevant examples. I came away convinced, more than ever, that the SDGs provide a meaningful way forward for addressing challenges undermining good governance in our public sector. But we will have to work hard and smart to help achieve that outcome.”

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