Interview: CEO of Mornington Peninsula Shire

How local governments can support an ageing population.

A popular spot for retirees, about a third of Mornington Peninsula’s 155,000 residents are over 60 years of age. Carl Cowie - the Chief Executive Officer of the Mornington Peninsula Shire in Australia - is revamping how the local government serves these people using technology. “We want to create a different customer service experience, where through one phone call or one online entry, you can provide us with all the information that we need,” he tells GovInsider. Carl Cowie The government has launched a new website as the digital shopfront for all of its services. Citizens were previously routed through multiple departments, submitting information each time, before they landed up at the final point of transaction. The new website will do away with this, providing a single point of information for residents. As part of this digital overhaul, Cowie’s priority next year will be to introduce online payments for council taxes, permits and licences. Almost all paper forms for citizens will be converted to digital, he adds. All of these changes will “make our back office much more like dealing with a bank”, he says. Simpler engagement These digital services must be easy to use and accessible for the peninsula’s elderly population. “Taking things over to online needs to be simple for people who are less used to it”, Cowie says. Many of the elderly still pay in cash, and will have to move over to electronic payments over the next few years. Mornington’s digital revamp doesn’t involve costly bespoke websites. They used Government as a Platform principles and shared a site layout used by 75 other local governments in Australia. The system is called OpenCities. Cowie finds this approach more cost-effective than building in-house. “Certain councils have spent almost seven figure sums on websites”, he says. “OpenCities - because it’s an existing platform and you tailor it to a degree to your own circumstance - would be a small fraction of that figure”, he adds. The website will also help the shire save “millions of dollars” by cutting transaction costs. For example, payment receipts and statements will be emailed to residents, rather than sent by post. Information will be published in “virtually real time”, he says. Internal champions Simpler public services will require departments across the government to work together. “There’s a cultural change required in the organisation”, Cowie believes. “Traditionally, local government has worked in silos”, he says. Mornington is breaking this norm by building a single unit to look after all its service delivery channels. “It’s one team for all issues”, he says. The unit will work across different departments, like finance and tax, so that citizens don’t have to jump between units to pay their tax or get information. As part of that team, Cowie is hiring digital experts from other industries to champion the change. “We’ve recently hired someone from the banking sector”, he says, to push for the move to online payments. Mornington Peninsula’s turquoise blue waters make it a popular spot for easygoing retirees and laidback holidays. Meanwhile, its civil servants are buckling down to make government transactions a breeze. Main image by Benjamint444 - Own work, GFDL 1.2