Commonwealth of Australia 2015



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why large government policy initiatives have gone so badly wrong in the past and how the chances of success in the future can be improved

© Commonwealth of Australia 2015

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ISBN: 978-0-9943750-0-1
Letter of Transmittal

The Hon Greg Hunt MP


Minister for the Environment
Parliament House
CANBERRA ACT 2600

Dear Minister

In accordance with the Terms of Reference issued to me on 24 December 2014, I have undertaken an independent review of government processes for implementing large programs and projects, including the roles of ministers and public servants.

As requested, the review has taken account of the findings and recommendations of the Royal Commission into the Home Insulation Program, the report of the Independent Audit of the NBN Public Policy Processes (the Scales Review), and best practices in Australia and internationally.

I have pleasure in presenting you with my report, Learning from Failure: Why large government policy initiatives have gone so badly wrong in the past and how the chances of success in the future can be improved.

I very much appreciate the opportunity you have given me to consider such important issues. You will note that whilst I have come to conclusions as to how to improve the management of major projects I have not made recommendations to the Government. My strong preference is that the review be made widely available for public comment and discussion. I hope, in particular, that the views of the Australian Public Service on its proposals will help to inform the Government’s response.

In preparing this report I was assisted by a secretariat drawn from a number of Australian Government agencies. I record my appreciation for their insights, commitment and enthusiasm. I also express my thanks for those who met with me and the secretariat over the course of the review, and I am particularly grateful to the peer reviewers who commented on an earlier draft of this report.

Yours sincerely



Professor Peter Shergold AC


12 August 2015

Table of Contents

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Letter of Transmittal 3

Table of Contents 5

Terms of Reference 6

The Future: Avoiding Repetition of Failure 7

Executive summary: 28 proposals for improvement 8

Reflections on Failure 18

Lessons from the Past 25

The Future: Learning from Mistakes 100

Acronyms 101

Endnotes 106



Terms of Reference



  1. The Government has asked Professor Peter Shergold AC to lead an independent review of Government processes for the development and implementation of large public programmes and projects, including the roles of ministers and public servants.

  2. The Review will make practical recommendations to enhance the capacity of the Australian Government to:

    1. Design and implement large public programmes and projects;

    2. Develop robust and effective governance and accountability arrangements for such programmes and projects;

    3. Understand the broader environment in which programmes and policies are design and implemented (including through effective public consultation and harnessing external expertise);

    4. Identify, understand and manage risks; and

    5. Provide accurate, timely, clear and robust advice to ministers and within the APS.

  3. The Review will take account of the findings and recommendations of the Royal Commission into the Home Insulation Program, and the report of the Independent Audit of the NBN Public Policy Processes (the Scales Review).

  4. It will take account of best practices on the nature and effectiveness of public policy processes and the implementation of large public programmes and projects in Australia and internationally.

24 December 2014

The Future: Avoiding Repetition of Failure




Ian Hanger AM QC
I do not think the deficiencies I have identified are ones that could only have occurred in the specific circumstances of the Home Insulation Program. Several systemic or fundamental shortcomings can be identified which not only are capable of repetition … but which might be avoided through diligence and the taking of some additional measures.
I would recommend that the Australian Government use the experience of the Home Insulation Program as a means by which to learn from the mistakes identified in the report, many of which can be traced to overconfidence and unrealistic optimism.” (2014)
Ian Hanger AM QC was the Royal Commissioner who led the Royal Commission into the Home Insulation Program in 2014


Executive summary: 28 proposals for improvement


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