Paul Murray: Why is tarnished Vic bureaucrat Kym Peake leading inquiry into WA’s health system?
The Coate inquiry into Victoria’s botched hotel quarantine program which cost the lives of at least 760 people found that State’s health department had refused to accept accountability for its role in the disaster.
“The Victorian hotel quarantine system inquiry’s final report has highlighted major issues with governance structures and accountability during the program, particularly within the Department of Health and Human Services,” reported The Mandarin, a national website specialising in public service news.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said that if the department’s former minister, Jenny Mikakos, and its secretary Kym Peake had not resigned just before the inquiry ended, he would have expected them to do so in the wake of the report.
The day she quit, Mikakos issued a statement claiming the department – and by implication Peake – had not kept her properly informed, which was also the inquiry’s conclusion.
Andrews, a former health minister, subsequently split the mega-department in two, reversing Labor’s 2015 amalgamation which Peake oversaw, admitting that big departments “can get too big.”
Melbourne’s The Age newspaper concluded: “The report found an ‘ongoing dispute’ between the former DHHS and the Jobs Department about who was in charge had caused ‘significant problems’ and created ‘complex and, at times, inexplicable internal governance structures that served to complicate and obfuscate reporting lines and accountabilities rather than create clarity’.”
This week, the McGowan Government appointed Peake to head an inquiry into the governance of WA’s health system. Dinkum.
The baffling appointment of Peake to lead a governance review after the damning criticisms of the standards of governance in a Victorian department under her control is not the only puzzling part of the review established by new Health Minister Amber–Jade Sanderson.
“The governance review will examine the operational and practical effectiveness of the governance structures set out in the Health Services Act 2016 and their impact on patient outcomes, prior to the commencement of a statutory review required under the legislation,” Sanderson announced on Tuesday.
So the McGowan Government is holding a review for its own purposes into one element of the Act before moving on to a mandatory full review which fell due on July 1, last year, but was not held.
The integrity of the statutory review is important because serious deficiencies in the WA health system were apparent before the pandemic struck in 2020. Significantly, that report must be tabled in State Parliament.
The key to the apparent duplication may be in the words “impact on patient outcomes” in the Minister’s description of her discretionary review’s purpose.
It is a time-worn political strategy for governments to blame their predecessors for their own failings.
This first review looks like a political hit job. The Act only mandates one review of its “operation and effectiveness”. Why two?
The 2016 Act, which Labor supported, modernised 90-year old legislation and devolved responsibility for the delivery of health services to seven board-governed statutory authorities. It was the antithesis of the amalgamated Victorian mega-department that Peake ran.
On Wednesday I submitted 14 questions to Sanderson about the new review and Peake’s appointment.
The response will give readers an idea of the growing arrogance of this government, its lack of accountability and its cavalier disregard for scrutiny.
None of the questions about Peake’s suitability has been answered. Neither have those about the rationale for the first review, nor the cost of having two reviews.
Coming after this week’s revelations by political editor Peter Law about the McGowan Government’s excessive secrecy in dealing with an FoI request about its pandemic deliberations, this response is unsettling. These were my written questions:
- Division 3 section 232 of the Health Services Act 2016 says there must be a review of the “operation and effectiveness” of the legislation after five years. Why was the review not done then?
- The review announced by the Minister is into the “operational and practical effectiveness of the governance structures” of the Act to be done before the statutory review is started. What is the reason for the duplication?
- Why did the Minister not just hold the statutory review with an emphasis on governance structures rather than two reviews?
- When does the Minister expect the first review will be completed? What is the time frame for the following statutory review to be completed?
- Was the Minister aware of the role of Ms Kym Peake in the final report of the Coate inquiry when she appointed her to head the new review?
- Was the Minister aware that the report was highly critical of governance failures by the DHHS under Ms Peake’s direction?
- Was the Minister aware that after the report was published, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said he would have removed Ms Peake as department head had she not already resigned?
- Why was Ms Peake seen fit to head a review in WA on health governance issues given the matters raised in questions 6 and 7?
- Did the Minister consider whether Ms Peake’s controversial role in the Victorian scandal and its connection to governance failings in her department would have a detrimental effect on the reputation of the WA review?
- Was the Minister aware of the inquiry’s criticism of Ms Peake’s DHHS in these terms: “complex and, at times, inexplicable internal governance structures that served to complicate and obfuscate reporting lines and accountabilities rather than create clarity”.
- Does the Minister believe such criticism could affect how people regard Ms Peake’s suitability to chair a government health legislation governance review?
- What will Ms Peake be paid for her work as head of the review?
- What will the other members of the review panel be paid?
- Will the statutory review also focus on “patient outcomes” as part of its work or will that be covered only by the first review?
And this was the government’s response:
“As the Minister outlined during her press conference yesterday, the Independent Governance Review of the Health Services Act 2016 is required by law and was delayed by the pandemic.”
(This is untrue. It isn’t.)
“The Health Department had previously identified opportunities to improve the effectiveness of certain functions and powers and clarify ambiguous sections of the Act, hence the drafting and introduction of the Amendment Bill.
“The Bill passed the Legislative Assembly on 9 September, 2020 however given the obstruction of our legislative agenda in the Legislative Council by the Liberals and Nationals the Bill didn’t pass parliament before it was prorogued. The Bill was re-introduced into Parliament last year.
“It is critical to investigate and understand whether the current governance arrangements specified within the Act are operating in a way that is optimal and enables the best possible outcomes for patients and their families.
“The recommendations of the review will inform the statutory review of the Act, which is required to be undertaken after five years, or as soon as practicable following the Act’s commencement.
“The panel is due to report to this Minister later this year. The Panel has considerable, relevant skills and experience and were endorsed by Cabinet.
“The remuneration of panel members is reflective of current market rates, based on the provision of expert advisory services in similar WA Health reform programs.”
Given her recent history, if Peake is the best qualified person in Australia to lead a health governance review then it reflects poorly on the national talent pool.
The real answer to her appointment is more likely to be found in the murky internecine world of internal Labor politics and the close links between the WA and Victorian branches through the United Workers Union.
Premier McGowan’s former deputy chief of staff, Jo Gaines, was chosen as one of the three other members of the review panel, following her lucrative recent appointments as chair of the Government Employees Superannuation Board and to the board of Development WA.
Labor did more than not oppose the Barnett Government’s health governance changes in 2016. This was what then Opposition spokesman Roger Cook told Parliament:
“From all the opportunities I have had to examine it and be briefed on it, I think it is quite competent legislation. From comments that I have made publicly in the past, members know that I think it moves us in the sort of direction we are looking for to bring greater innovation into our health system and provide more nimble and more relevant health services with decision-making being devolved closer to the coalface.”
As for Peake, after the Coate report was published, Australian Medical Association Victorian president Julian Rait called for an external audit of the DHHS, saying a panel of governance experts, health experts and “people from interstate” should probe the agency’s structure.
“Given the scope and depth of the problems, you’d have to ask why would you not do a root-and-branch review of the department and its failings to ensure Victorians were better served in future by a properly-functioning department,” Rait said.
Peake is probably relieved that never happened and Andrews just moved on.
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