Premier Colin Barnett today announced sweeping changes to a range of Government departments which will improve the delivery of services to the Western Australian community.
Chief among the proposed changes is the merger of Verve and Synergy.
A comprehensive suite of reforms will also result in a new Department of Local Government and Communities established, a new stand-alone Department of Lands created and, as foreshadowed during the election campaign, responsibility for Science will be moved into the Department of the Premier and Cabinet (DPC).
Mr Barnett said he was also keen to get on with his election commitment of splitting the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) into a new Department of Parks and Wildlife and an environmental regulation department which will retain the name DEC.
The Premier said that consideration was being given to subsequently amalgamating the Department of Water with the remaining part of DEC but if this takes place, it would not occur until the end of the year.
Mr Barnett said the Office of Strategic Projects and the Regulatory Gatekeeping Unit from Treasury would be brought into the Department of Finance. The Department of Indigenous Affairs will be renamed the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, in line with requests from the Aboriginal community and the Department for Child Protection will be renamed the Department for Child Protection and Family Support to better reflect the broad scope of its remit.
In order to ensure better integration of the State’s network of services relating to prevention, treatment, professional education and training and research activities in the drug and alcohol sector and its support for and delivery of mental health services, the Drug and Alcohol Office will be joined with the Mental Health Commission under the control of a single chief executive.
The Premier said the changes to the Drug and Alcohol Office were in response to the findings of the Stokes Report which highlighted the issues facing the mental health system including the need for ‘improved liaison between mental health and drug and alcohol services worker willingness to co-operatively provide care and intervention for patients with dual conditions’.
“The changes will improve service delivery, streamline processes, ensure better transparency and bring greater efficiencies to many government operations,” he said.
“They are about building better structures of government and ensuring better delivery of service to the public.
“These are logical steps in the provision of better government services.”
Mr Barnett said the changes to Verve and Synergy would deliver improved efficiencies in electricity delivery.
The Premier said splitting up Western Power into separate State-owned entities had failed to deliver lower electricity costs, in fact it had contributed to higher electricity costs in the South-West grid.
“This structure has created a series of unintended and highly inefficient outcomes which has contributed to higher electricity costs,” he said.
Mr Barnett said while the electricity market changes had attracted some private sector investment they had also resulted in a lack of longer-term planning on electricity market requirements, including energy security.
There were also significant overheads and costs from duplicating Government-owned entities, smaller generation plant had resulted in economies of scale being lost, there was excess generation capacity and a weaker negotiating position on issues such as fuel purchases.
“For example, both Verve and Synergy negotiated domestic gas supply contracts with the Gorgon project which resulted in a higher overall gas price compared with the price that could have been achieved from one gas contract negotiation,” the Premier said.
“The first step in addressing the shortcomings of the existing electricity market is to establish a single State-owned electricity generator and retailer to assist the State in meeting its planning and economic development requirements.
“This will create a financially robust entity capable of underpinning the industry, reduce overheads and costs in the industry to facilitate private sector participation, and enhance its negotiating position through one financially viable entity.”
Mr Barnett said the integrated entity would retain the name Synergy.
The first step will be to place a common board over both Synergy and Verve by July 1, 2013. Legislative changes will then be required to integrate Synergy and Verve into a single Government trading entity with two ring-fenced business units (generation and retail) by January 1, 2014.
With regard to the other changes, the Premier said the new Department of Local Government and Communities would improve the delivery of a range of community services at the local level.
“We expect this will drive increased collaboration at a local level between Government agencies, not-for-profit organisations and local governments,” he said.
Mr Barnett said splitting DEC would also have great advantages.
“This will clearly separate the management and conservation of our unique marine and terrestrial environment from the role of environmental regulator,” he said.
“Parks and Wildlife will focus on scientific research and conservation efforts and promotion of the tourism potential of our State’s natural assets.”
In addition, a new single authority, to be named the Conservation and Parks Commission will replace two separate existing authorities, the Marine Parks Reserves Authority and the Conservation Commission.
The Premier said moving Science into the DPC was a reflection of the importance of Science and a science culture to the future development of the State.
“The knowledge and application of science is what underpins new and diverse concepts and ideas. It’s what enables communities to take steps forward in the way they run businesses, the way they protect the environment and the way they educate their children,” he said.
“Recreating a Department of Lands will also ensure that sufficient attention is given to the integrity of the system of land titles while moving the Office of Strategic Projects and the Regulatory Gatekeeping Unit in the Department of Treasury to the Department of Finance will consolidate capital works projects within one agency.”
The legislation which will see the reform of ports management, including the consolidation of the seven of the State’s eight port authorities into four regional port authorities, announced last year, will also be introduced into Parliament this year.
Premier’s office - 6552 5000