Monday, 5 December 2016

A New Productivity Commission Issues Paper on Human Services

The Productivity Commission is engaged in a review of the Human Services sector. Terms of Reference for the Review require an inquiry into Australia's human services, including health, education, and community services, with a focus on innovative ways to improve outcomes through introducing the principles of competition and informed user choice whilst maintaining or improving quality of service. Link to the Terms of Reference here.

The Productivity Commission has released a Study Report as part of its review of the Human Services Sector. The Study Report identifies a number of sectors which would benefit from further reform. Included in the sectors identified are human service provision in remote Indigenous communities.

The Commission notes that
There is a lack of transparency around service provision and funding, and evidence on the effectiveness of programs, all of which are important for policy design and implementation. Gaps and overlaps in service provision cannot be readily identified or addressed without information on what services are provided, where and to whom. Services cannot be targeted to improve outcomes without an understanding of what works (p135).

The Study makes a number of Findings on remote Indigenous service provision, reproduced below:


Indigenous Australians living in remote areas are more likely to experience poor outcomes than other Australians. Inadequate access to human services is one factor that contributes to these poor outcomes.

• The service delivery arrangements for Indigenous Australians living in remote Indigenous communities are complex and fragmented.

• Greater responsiveness to community needs through user choice, place-based service models or greater community engagement could improve outcomes.

 • Many services are already contestable, but approaches to contestability are poorly designed and are not effective at meeting intended outcomes. Redesign of these arrangements is needed which, coupled with better coordination between governments, could improve outcomes including the efficiency of service provision.

• More stable policy settings and clearer lines of responsibility, could increase governments’ accountability for improving service outcomes for Indigenous Australians living in remote communities.

Key issues identified by the Commission include the need for improved data and transparency; the crucial role of Government not only in designing effective policies, but its stewardship role in ensuring that policies are implemented effectively, particularly when services have been outsourced to non-government service providers, and finally the desirability of increased policy stability.

There is in my view a persuasive argument that these factors individually and together play crucial roles in the effectiveness of remote service provision, or to put it another way, their absence (in whole or in part) are in large measure responsible for the shortfalls which are so apparent, and which are responsible for the persistent and deep-seated Indigenous disadvantage in many remote locations.

The Productivity Commission plans to finalise their report on Human Services reforms in December 2017.