Public Private Partnerships: Modernisation in the Australian Public Sector

Linda English

Public private partnerships [PPPs] are a product of policies and processes to modernise the delivery of infrastructure-based services. An examination of the modernisation literature establishes the broad analytical frame within which this thesis investigates PPPs. The macro-level overview of the recent transformation of the Australian public sector confirms that the dominant principles underlying modernisation are grounded in new institutional economics [NIE] that are implemented through private-sector derived accounting and management implementation technologies. It highlights the contextual complexities stemming from Australia?s federal system of government, explaining the decision to focus on investigating PPP experiences in Victoria.

At the conceptual level, PPPs rely on risk management and modernisation of service delivery to achieve value for money [VFM] for governments. In Victoria, 2000 signals a change in the modernisation role of PPPs. Thereafter, risk inherent in PPPs was reduced by excluding the contractor from the delivery of core social services. Also, the state began to develop a number of PPP policies to guide, aid, control and rationalise decision making in the pre-contracting stage, and to clarify objectives. Analysis of PPP contracts and the failure of one pre-2000 PPP hospital project are illustrative of the controversies identified in the literature about 'hidden' aims, the role of technologies designed provide 'objective' evidence of VFM inherent in PPPs at the time of contracting, and the 'fallacy' of risk transfer to private contractors.

An examination of prison contracts indicates the changing nature of the management and control of PPPs in the execution stage. Analysis of pre-2000 prison contracts reveals hat these projects were intended to drive significant financial and non-financial modernisation reforms throughout the correctional services system. Despite problems with contractual specification of performance and payment mechanisms, and the failure of one of the three pre-2000 prisons, recent evidence suggests, contrary to conclusions in the previous literature, that sector-wide modernisation objectives are being achieved in PPP prisons.

PPPs have been criticised on the grounds that they enable governments to avoid accountability for service provision. A survey of the extent, focus and characteristics of the performance audit of PPPs confirms that little PPP auditing has been undertaken in Australia per se, and also that much of the performance auditing has focused on examining adherence to mandated procedures in the pre-contracting stage. However, this thesis demonstrates that the Victorian government has undertaken significant evaluation of the operation of its pre-2000 PPP prisons, and that its thinking and policy development reflect lessons learnt.

The evidence presented in this thesis challenges findings in the previous literature that modernisation has delivered less than promised. This thesis confirms the potency of longitudinal research to investigate outcomes of what is essentially an iterative process of reform and that 'successful' implementation of modernisation change is sensitive to the context to be reformed. In finding that the presence of goodwill trust is critical to the implementation of recent modernisation reform in the correctional services sector (including in the PPP prisons), this thesis also confirms recent critiques of the power of NIE theories to explain contracting practices in the PPP setting.

Supervisor/s

Professor James Guthrie and Associate Professor Sue Newberry

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