Will the Royal Commission’s Interim Report disappear? Commissioner Briggs’ history of delivering real reforms suggests not

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With the Government announcing $537 million to support the three actions from the Interim Report – home care, chemical restraints, young people in residential care – last week – and the Final Report still a year away, it may seem like the Royal Commission will again slip from the headlines.

But one look at Commissioner Lynelle Briggs’ work history says she will not be letting ‘Neglect’ vanish from the public eye so easily.

It turns out Commissioner Briggs has a history of leading service reform with over 30 years’ experience in the Australian Public Service.

A University of Sydney graduate, the Commissioner worked as a policy adviser to the Minister for Community Services in the 1980s before spending two years working for the New Zealand Treasury.

Taking on senior positions in the Departments of Social Security, Prime Minister and Cabinet, Treasury and Health and Aged Care, she eventually became a Deputy Secretary in the Department of Transport and Regional Services between 2001 and 2004 where she was involved in creating Auslink, the Government’s former land transport funding program that ran from 2004 to 2009.

In November 2004, she was appointed as the Australian Public Service Commissioner – ensuring that Australia’s 160,000 public servants are up to scratch – by then-Prime Minister John Howard, a role she held for five years.

Commissioner Briggs then became the chief executive of Medicare Australia from 2009 until 2011 (pictured inset from when the Commissioner was in this role) – which is where we come to her truly transformative work.

During this time, the Commissioner was engaged in integrating Medicare, the Department of Human Services, Centrelink and CRS Australia into one department.

This was no easy task – she and the CEOs of the DHS and Centrelink had to incorporate 40,000 people, 5,000 middle managers and 220 senior executives in the human services portfolio, 550 offices and outreach services across Australia, 170 programs and services and a range of call centres, online services and IT systems.

They achieved this – and more, creating new leadership practices and a new ITC plan, merging governance arrangements and delivering 10% savings – before the merger even took place.

This is a massive reform, achieved in under three years (the same length of time the Commissioner says the aged care system could be overhauled).

Commissioner Briggs was also responsible for creating Lifetime Health Cover (LHC), the government initiative designed to encourage Australians to purchase and maintain private patient hospital cover earlier in life.

When she retired from the public service in 2011, the Commissioner didn’t take a break. Instead she was appointed to lead an inquiry into building site safety in Canberra in 2012 – a review that led to multiple changes to ACT construction training, enforcement and culture.

Commissioner Briggs was subsequently made an Officer of the Order of Australia in January 2013 for distinguished service to public administration – particularly through leadership in the development of public service performance and professionalism.

Since then, she has chaired ASIO’s Audit and Risk Committee (2012-2016) and the NSW Planning Assessment Commission (2015-2018) and currently chairs the General Insurance Code Governance Committee, the body that ensures insurers comply with the industry’s Code of Practice.

Why am I sharing the Commissioner’s work history?

To make the point that she knows how long it takes to achieve ‘transformational change’.

When Commissioner Briggs makes comments about the role of CEOs or governance or systems, she knows what she is talking about.

She is a realist – with experience across all the areas that affect aged care – government, business, health and social security.

We can see from the language in the Interim Report – ‘neglect’, ‘shame’, ‘cruel’ – that she won’t stand by and let this Report be put on the shelf like so many other previous reviews – and we are only at the Commission’s halfway point.

The late Commissioner Richard Tracey demonstrated a similar passion and commitment, working on the Interim Report even as his health declined – even when he travelled to California for medical treatment.

That goes beyond simply fulfilling the requirements of your job.

Even the Counsels Assisting are showing a level of enthusiasm that is proof of their commitment.

If you watched evidence from the banking Royal Commission and the dry, flat delivery of its Counsels Assisting, you will recognise that the Aged Care Counsel Assisting team has upped the tempo considerably.

Take Senior Counsel Assisting Peter Rozen QC’s off-the-cuff question during the CEO panel at the Melbourne workforce hearings:

“How do we get more people to want to work in aged care, to jump out of bed and say ‘I’m off to work at Resthaven’, the way we do with the Royal Commission; really want to get out of bed and get to work? How do we do that as an industry?”

Neither the Commissioner nor the Counsels Assisting are going to let this opportunity to drive reform slide by.

The sector should buckle in for 2020.

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