A Defining Moment

With nominations closing for 2015 Actuary of the Year, the important contribution of Peter Martin (2014 Actuary of the Year) and his journey to the control rooms of Australian public policy is worth remembering.

From teaching school kids to reviewing NDIS and military compensation scheme costings, Peter’s impassioned speech traced his path into a profession he formerly knew nothing about.

peter martin
Peter Martin accepted the award at the GI Seminar Gala Dinner in Sydney.

“Sometimes, just a few particular moments in time can, in effect, define a whole life,” Peter said.

The first moment came at 30 years of age, when Peter was introduced to actuary Cathy Nance who encouraged him to try the Part I exams (then called Part A exams).

“I didn’t know what an actuary was or what they did. I guess I’d heard that, perhaps, they tended to be a little bit bookish!” Peter said.

He entertained the idea of entering the actuarial world as he studied for and completed the exams.

Brisbane was experiencing a recession and actuarial jobs were hard to come by at that time so his career-change momentum slowed and he continued in the classroom.

 

Eight months later, however, a letter arrived in the mail from a former family acquaintance. In it was a newspaper clipping advertising a position in the Government Actuary’s office in Canberra.

“By virtue of that one random letter I ended up moving to Canberra…and there I met Donald Duval,” said Peter, describing the Government Actuary during the early to mid-1990s as a great mentor with “massive intellect”.

“When, one day, Prime Minister Howard… uttered the words ‘incurred but not reported’…we kind of felt we’d made it” – Peter Martin

Up until that time, the Government Actuary’s Office was primarily working on superannuation. Peter’s appointment occurred soon after the move of the office from APRA to Treasury.

Then, in 1995, Peter was asked to look at why the costs of the military compensation scheme had doubled in the space of a couple of years.  

“Donald wisely engaged the help of David Minty and Geoff Atkins to guide us in the way of general insurance actuarial thinking and approaches [and] with that, the Government Actuary’s office was on its way in the world of general insurance,” said Peter.

Over the subsequent years, he demonstrated to Government the value of actuarial advice in a policy‑setting context.

The HIH collapse, September 11, and then the collapse of UMP and the difficulties in the medical indemnity industry meant a steep learning curve for both Government and its Actuary’s office.

“But learn they (and we) did,” said Peter, “in one sense, we hit the high-water mark when, one day, Prime Minister Howard, in answer to a question time question, uttered the words ‘Incurred but not Reported’. We kind of felt we’d made it.”

“The importance of actuarial valuation and control cycle techniques in ensuring the long-term sustainability of the scheme cannot be overstated” – Peter Martin

More recently, in 2012, Peter led a review of the costing undertaken by the Productivity Commission in relation to the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). He then provided influential advice on enshrining the roles of scheme actuary and reviewing actuary in the governing legislation.

The guiding philosophy for the NDIS differs fundamentally from the approach which has been taken to funding disability support services by Governments in the past. The importance of actuarial valuation and control cycle techniques in ensuring the long term sustainability of the scheme cannot be overstated.

“Peter has played a key role in enhancing the stature of the actuarial profession within Government” Daniel Smith

Peter’s input, and his membership of the Sustainability Committee for the NDIS, helped inject these concepts into discussions around the design of the scheme and maintain that focus going forward.

It is a measure of his influence, and the respect in which Peter is held that, in the period since his appointment, the Australian Government Actuary has been assigned a legislative role in areas as diverse as medical indemnity, family law and visa charging arrangements.

Peter dedicated his Actuary of the Year award to all public sector actuaries, especially the team in Canberra, including his colleague of 20 years, Susan Antcliff. 

“At the risk of sounding biased, I think the contribution they make to the public policy discourse is disproportionate to their small size,” he said.

As well as playing a key role in enhancing the stature of the actuarial profession within government, Peter has actively contributed to actuarial education by participating in the Commercial Actuarial Practice course and guest lectures at the Australian National University.

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