Growth Management in SE Queensland (2003)

CPDS Home Contact Realistic Public Administration is the Key   SEQ Regional Plan 2004
Outline +


There has been intense public criticism of the management of population growth and of the development of transport systems in SE Queensland.

Published sources which address these concerns are outlined in Land Use Planning and Transport.   Aspects of these challenges include:

  • relatively rapid population growth largely due to interstate migration - with an expected additional 1m people over the next two decades;
  • urban sprawl - and a loss in open space in the region;
  • traffic congestion;
  • various public sector arrangements related to planning and infrastructure development - which involve different levels of government;
  • numerous recent programs (and future proposals) focused on reducing these problems;
  • significant funding shortfalls in the provision of infrastructure.

The major themes of this document are that:

  • problems in managing land use and infrastructure can not be separated from a general lack of top management competencies in Queensland, and severe dysfunctions that have now developed in public administration;
  • a solution is available in the medium term - but some envisaged 'solutions' would not work;
  • overcoming the funding constraints will not be straight-forward. 



Author's background: The observations offered here are based on over 30 years experience, study and analysis of issues related to government planning / coordination and the development of economic systems with particular reference to Queensland - the majority of which were spent in central government agencies. The author's master's thesis addressed coordination in government planning and administration, and career experience included, as (acting) Regional Coordinator for North Queensland, a year's involvement in establishing one very early version of regional coordination machinery (see also CV).

Management gaps in Queensland

Queensland has traditionally suffered from a general lack of top management skills.

The main deficiency is a lack of people who know how to manage 'big systems' (eg large organizations) and this arises from the state's small business / branch office character and heavy reliance on external investors to take the significant economic initiatives.

A key difference is that the small business / branch office managers tend to focus on tasks / projects (ie with 'doing things') while a much more important feature of managing 'big systems' is creating an environment in which others can 'do things'.   

With few exceptions the only 'big-system' management has been in the public sector (and in some respects this is the essence of 'governing'). However this competency is subject to a political system whose main outside advice has

  • reflected Queensland's small-business branch-office environment; and
  • typically been provided informally, ie without institutional arrangements to inject a high quality of practical inputs into public policy debates (see Queensland's Weak Parliament). In the absence of such inputs it is very difficult for Queensland to develop astute leaders.

The result of this is a tendency towards:

  • what one observer described as Queensland's 'pragmatic hands-on' political style [1];
  • focusing central government agencies on a few specific 'projects' (eg major investments) rather than on ensuring that government generally works - which in turn focuses government as a whole on those 'projects' rather than on governing (ie on ensuring that business and the community can operate effectively);
  • adoption of policies which vary between:
    • extreme conservatism (ie doing what has always been done, even if no longer adequate); or
    • 'trendiness' (ie espousing the latest and greatest ideas to impress the media and impressionable interest groups) without serious concern for whether those ideas are locally relevant, practical or actually achieving their intended goals elsewhere. Queensland's Smart State program is an example of this phenomenon.

This has been a serious limitation of Queensland's performance for decades (eg see About Queensland's Economic Strategy) - and the situation has become critical with:

  • the damage which was done to Queensland's public administration machinery in the 1980s by a central government focus on projects (see below); followed by
  • displacement of practical competencies in naive politically and academically driven 'reform' of the public sector in the 1990s (see Towards Good Government in Queensland). 

It is also the ultimate source of many of the problems in dealing with land use, transport and infrastructure in SE Queensland - and much more besides.

The Failure of Land Use Planning and Infrastructure Machinery

As noted above there is intense public concern about the adequacy of transport infrastructure and land use planning in SE Queensland.

There is also a widespread presumption that ineffectual action in relation to land use and infrastructure requires (a) the creation of a new organization which in some undiscussed way will magically cause the problem to disappear and (b) a commitment to substantially increased infrastructure investment. However:

  • some suggested 'new' organizational options would be of limited value (eg see comments on 'super-ministry' and regional authority options below);
  • though some structural change might eventually be useful, the most pressing requirement is to make Queensland's system of public administration generally work properly;
  • though the Allen Consulting work on the financing of public infrastructure is quite relevant in general in showing the importance of public debt financing, in Queensland's case there has already been a massive increase in the rate of infrastructure investment (apparently financed by running-down GOC assets; and by dubious capital accounting - as an alternative to obvious borrowing). It is now at a level which seems fiscally unsustainable with current tax rates (and accounts for much more than Queensland's population share of all state infrastructure investment).

Transport infrastructure and land use are by no means the only functions in which Queensland's system of public administration is struggling  (eg see Queensland's Challenge,  and specific examples listed in The Growing Case for a Professional Public Service).  

Furthermore there seem to be serious defects in the primary machinery for management and coordination which (as in any government) revolves around the role of the chief executive (Premier), the cabinet and the budget (see details in reform suggestions below). These general management defects go a long way to explaining problems in planning and coordination of land use and infrastructure in SE Queensland (which accounts for over 50% of the state's population and economy).

And several of these general administration problems are directly relevant to land use and infrastructure, eg:

In particular there has been mounting criticism of the Integrated Planning Act (IPA). One observer has suggested that it resulted in a great increase in 'process' and regulation - and a seriously reduced emphasis on 'product' (ie on the real outcomes the community actually needs to achieve). The latter concerns must be considered in the context of :

  • the implausibility of the IPA's goal of defining a process for 'planning' (everything) without apparently considering how this would relate to the normal operations of agencies which develop plans through line management processes, as well as through the budget and cabinet; and
  • simultaneous deskilling of the Public Service - which made a 'product' focus impossible; and
  • simultaneous corporatisation / commercialization of many government functions which separated those responsible for operations into pseudo-commercial businesses, and left core agencies with even further reduced 'product' competencies.

Moreover, in relation to the situation in SE Queensland, there were serious defects in the SEQ 2001 regional planning study which laid the foundation for:

  • 'growth management' in this critical region; and
  • the 'growth management' model which was apparently generalized in the Integrated Planning Act. 

SEQ 2001: A Plan for an Under-developed Economy (1994) made the following key points:

  • an independent reviewer believed that many of SEQ 2001's conclusions lacked credibility - and that a lot more work was required;
  • SEQ 2001 was based on dubious assumptions as it did not take development of the regions' economy seriously - and one could not finance a high standard of infrastructure and services with a relatively under-developed economy;
  • no consideration was given to how suggested substantial additional spending might be financed;
  • an unrealistic politically driven and public sector centered process was suggested for growth management which would simply add to red-tape;
  • effective development of the region requires attention to very many issues - not just 'real estate' issues (ie land use and infrastructure).

Thus the main problem is that Queensland's public administration in general and that related to land use planning and infrastructure in particular are constipated.  A secondary problem is that there is no common understanding of the overall 'architecture' of SE Queensland.

A complexity that needs to be recognized that SE Queensland is not the only region that the Queensland Government is responsible for, and that in many other regions there is a view that too much attention is paid to SE Queensland [1].  Thus any solutions can not be solely concerned with SE Queensland.

Intergovernmental relationships add a further level of complexity to the situation.

  • local authorities in Queensland (especially the Brisbane City Council) have significant powers and responsibilities;
  • Australia's unbalanced federal fiscal system (and the escalation of special purpose funding since the 1970s) have made it very difficult for states to take real responsibility for their operational functions - and this may be a major cause of what some have perceived as an infrastructure backlog in SE Queensland;
  • the Commonwealth is promoting Auslink and 'Roads to Recovery' programs which envisage that it take the leading role in coordinating the regulation of different transport modes and development of strategic infrastructure; and would eliminate state involvement in local roads. This arrangement will further complicate the situation, and ensure that coordinating between transport and other functions involves arms-length negotiations rather than integrated planning (see Australia's Governance Crisis). In practice a competition seems to have emerged between federal and state politicians in announcing uncoordinated major road projects [1, 2], which may render any effective development of SE Queensland's transport system impossible.  One project identified (a by-pass connecting with the Logan Motorway to reduce heavy vehicle use of the Ipswich Motorway) was developed apparently by taking account of road / rail issues related to freight, but took much less account of other aspects of Brisbane's transport needs.

It seems likely that the Commonwealth is also suffering administrative 'constipation' because since 2000 it has copied the 'new public management' model which resulted in politicisation, de-skilling and operational failures in state governments in the 1990s (see The Decay of Australian Public Administration - which identifies features of that model as centralized / politicized strategic planning, managerialism and pseudo commercialization). 

The Auslink program seems to be a symptom of this. While it involves useful goals (eg linking road / rail; shifting freight onto rail [1]), its 'central planning' method means that (a) those concerned with other aspects of the transport system are presented, not with information about those goals to take into account, but with firm project proposals which do not 'fit' into the overall system and (b) the overall process for transport planning is made vastly more complex and 'political'.

These constraints might be addressed as follows.

Fixing Land Use and Infrastructure Management

Fixing Land Use and Infrastructure Management [Preliminary]

Step 1: Give Government a Laxative

Key issues in improving the overall effectiveness of Queensland's public administration (subject to confirmation / adjustment by networking to gain better / internal understanding of the current situation) are probably:

  • removing the political framework within which senior staff have to work (ie re-creation of something like a Westminster tradition to limit the exercise of political whim). This does not require an across-the-board purge of politicized officials, as the key problem is the weird / populist pressures they are subject to under the current situation (which encourage a focus on political, rather than practical, outcomes).
It is also noted that:
  • where the main role of the Public Service is to protect politicians backsides, the easiest option is to put a favourable spin on the facts (ie 'prove' that bad news is really good news) rather than confronting the much harder challenge of real change;
  • there is no realistic alternative to having a competent committed bureaucracy. When outside pressure is applied to (or by) government - the response is always 'we are doing / will do that'. But what is being (or to be) done may be quite unrealistic. However it is very hard (impossible) for outsiders to tell - because one can only learn about practicalities from experience;
  • in most cases the problem is not the people themselves - though a process for confirming the experience and relevant knowledge of senior staff (eg as in Renewal of Queensland's Public Service) could be considered. More broadly staff changes should be allowed to happen naturally, as some adapt to the new environment and succeed, while others find the situation too hard and move on, or are moved.
  • unclogging information bottlenecks linked to the internal secrecy of routine cabinet documents. Without easy access to information about what is happening elsewhere fragmentation of efforts is much more likely;
  • shifting control of organizational development to line managers, and slashing specialized HRM functions. The fact that the 'tail has been wagging the dog' has been a major cause of the dysfunctions which have grown in state administration because change has been driven by idealized-internal, rather than practical-real-world, goals.  [Current plans for a shared services initiative (SSI) could be a step in the wrong direction if it reinforced the control of Public Service organizational development by HRM functionaries];
  • use of a strategic 'management' approach to allow existing agencies to adapt. At present highly centralized / politicized strategic 'planning' appears to be used by Queensland - which: ensures that planning is a politically-focused paper process rather than a real-world people process; leaves most staff confused and frustrated; and is utterly ineffectual as larger firms discovered in the 1980s (see Strategy Development in Business and Government).
In passing it can be noted that:
  • one external observer identified an apparent failure in dealing with middle-order planning issues in Queensland. This reflects the 'centralized strategic planning' model which deals only with a few issues and does not engage commitment or develop the competency of more than a few people;
  • similar methods were reportedly adopted by the Federal Government in 2000 and can be expected to lead to clearly ineffective administration by (say) 2005 (see 'The Power of One');
  • it may be that a national institution which is being established to train senior public servants will treat this ineffectual and out-of-date model as 'best practice';
  • creating a more realistic planning process linked to the state budgeting system (see Managing for Outcomes);
  • simplification of the regulatory process generally by (a) examining how regulations are developed to achieve public goals and (b) developing alternatives such as increasing public understanding of, and support for, those goals; and emphasis on common sense; community morality and common law under simplified legislation (see also Moral foundations of individual liberty);
  • clarification of the true position of the state budget - which appears to be subject to a considerable amount of creative accounting (see Enron-itis; About the 2003-04 Budget) and growing pressure for tax increases - a situation which suggests an interesting dimension to the dispute between the state government and the Auditor General [1, 2];
  • reconsidering the net effect of pseudo 'commercialization' of many operational activities of government (eg the purchaser-provider' models which introduce both fragmentation / procedural complexities, and also some simplification);
  • removing the financial exposure associated with 'corporatised ' GOCs:
    • especially noting that the QIC seems to be on the point of succumbing to delusions of grandeur - and wants to become a 'business' which attracts non-governmental clients [1] - which would create the opportunity to 'do an AMP' with its $20+bn of state assets;
    • a subsidiary of QIC has been created to provide 'venture capital' funding for biotechnology enterprises [1] - a function for which (under a public accountability framework) it will inevitably lack relevant motivations / skills
  • give the state government an incentive to 'get real' about the development of a productive modern economy by phasing out the interstate financial transfers to Queensland under Commonwealth Grant's Commission horizontal equalization arrangements. This would make it impossible to ignore Queensland's weak tax base, and also allow the state to retain the financial benefits that flow from strengthening the Queensland tax base;

The overwhelming lesson that needs to be learned from Queensland's experience over the past decade is that the knowledge and skills required to gain political popularity are not (in themselves) sufficient to govern effectively.

Relieving the administrative 'constipation' which adversely affects SE Queensland also requires attention to (a) the decay in Commonwealth government administration which is implicit in the 'new public management' model and (b) federal fiscal imbalances which has long made effective state government almost impossible. However these will not be addressed here.

Step 2: Enhance Land Use and Infrastructure Machinery

Many of the basic mechanisms which the state government is using related to land use and infrastructure in particular appear to be constipated (see above). They thus need to receive particular attention as part of the above 'laxative' treatment.

Temporary commissioning of a ministerial committee and a minister-without-portfolio to assist the Premier (and Cabinet) in over-sighting the enhancement of land-use and infrastructure arrangements might be a useful additional step.

Step 3: Evolve a Shared Understanding of SE Queensland's 'Architecture'

For diverse organizations to collaborate in producing an integrated outcome, a shared understanding of what they are collaborating to achieve is useful (for the same reason that collaboration in development of the Internet required agreement on common protocols).

Moreover a key reason that the initiatives which have been taken (and the money that has been invested in transport infrastructure) in SE Queensland does not seem to make any difference is that (in the absence of an agreed 'architecture') those initiatives and investments are as likely to conflict as to harmonize.

While there appears to be a regional architecture in the form of Regional Framework for Growth Management which has been defined by the state government there is also considerable dis-satisfaction about its lack of effectiveness [1]

What architecture? Brisbane has to be treated as a real 21st-century city rather than as an over-extended hick-town. A starting point for evolving agreement about an architecture (which should still be possible if a decision is made very soon) might be something like:

  • collaboration with other coastal (or perhaps even inland) centres in Queensland and NSW to encourage diversion of some of SE Queensland's population growth to other areas. This could be achieved by development of high value economic functions in those centres which would attract investment and migration (eg by methods outlined in Developing a Regional Industry Cluster).
  • a serious effort to contain urban sprawl by:
    • tight controls on - and increasing public ownership of - a coherent pattern of remaining open space and natural areas in order to prevent the development of an uninterrupted urban mass from the Tweed to Noosa. This will be seen in future to be environmentally essential, and will improve the quality of life in the region. Without public ownership of perhaps a further 10-20% of land in the region, it is likely to be impossible to prevent land owners' property rights translating into un-ending sprawl;
    • encouragement of many geographically distinct communities in SE Queensland with increasingly quite high density residential, business, community, recreational and educational facilities;
  • evaluation of options to reduce adverse environmental impacts (eg the possibility of urban designs which would save significant infrastructure costs through reducing water and power requirements could be considered [1]);
  • development of grid of high frequency (perhaps at times underground?) rail services within and between these centres as densities increase.

An alternative strategic option for reducing sprawl (and financing infrastructure) could involve the introduction of death duties - as it was the removal of this state tax which seemed to trigger rapid population growth in SE Queensland in the first place.

To evolve agreement about such an architecture is not easy but should be possible through a process such as: (a) identifying a preliminary ‘vision’ (easy to do with a bit of effort) (b) commission technical investigations through stakeholders of aspects of that vision (c) invite proposals for practical initiatives that could be undertaken, including organizational changes (d) draft principles for regional architecture and (e) adopt the consensual view in 2-3 years time following some sort of formal debate / forum. Ongoing practical initiatives would be informed by this process but (mostly) not held up waiting a decision to be finalized.

While a particular emphasis may currently need to be devoted to devising a way forward for SE Queensland, the need for a viable approach to all regions should be recognised.

Comments on Some Alternative Options

Comments on Some Alternative Options

Complexity of government's role must defeat super ministries

Proposals by both Government [1] and Opposition [1] about how now to deal with land use problems and infrastructure bottlenecks in SE Queensland reportedly involved creating a 'super ministry' to solve this particular problem.

The Opposition's proposal reportedly involved linking such a Ministry with Treasury which seems particularly unnecessary as:

  • Treasury is already in enough difficulty given the need to oversee all government business undertakings (GBEs). The whole idea of government is that different functions are dealt with by different ministries, not that a single Minister tries to do almost everything. The skills and culture needed to centrally orchestrate all GBEs on a 'commercial' basis, are quite different to those needed to centrally orchestrate all planning and infrastructure on a 'public policy' basis;
  • quite a lot of finance for infrastructure (especially transport, education, health) comes from the Federal Government with specialist agencies handling the liaison role. Treasury has limited control, beyond a mechanical accounting function;
  • linking any function to Treasury is not going to overcome the growing financial pressures which ensure that many desired infrastructure investments seem unaffordable.

However there are a large number of strategic issues which Queensland's administration will have to respond to in an integrated way - in addition to overcoming local dysfunctions such as in infrastructure and land use planning.

Examples: A priority focus of Queensland's Government in 2004 appears likely to be on child protection [1] - and, while a new Department  has been proposed to address this, the reality seems to be that a significant number of agencies must be involved [1].

Recent published analyses suggest the types of issues that governments generally are going to have to deal with. For example The Agenda: Towards Opportunity and Prosperity - 2002 (Melbourne Institute and The Australian) attempted to develop a systematic account of emerging issues. These bodies undertook a similar analysis in 2003, and this was paralleled by the Century 21 series sponsored by The Australian Financial Review.

In particular, both Australia's health and (especially tertiary) education [1] systems appear to be facing severe management and financing difficulties - related to: involvement of many different organizations / levels of government; the rapid growth of subsidized demand; and some tension between introducing market mechanisms (to promote efficiency and responsiveness) and government involvement (to promote equity). 

One experienced observer suggested that a crisis in Australia's health care system can only be resolved (because in his view poverty is the main cause of health problems) if all ministers (not just those responsible for health) focus on this issue [1]. Another has suggested the need for a special ministry to coordinate the way all agencies deal with indigenous issues [1]. Another has argued that the central focus of government needs to be on preventing a large blow-out in welfare costs expected because very large numbers of young people from dysfunctional family / community situations will depend on welfare, and perpetuate this problem with their children [1].

An aside: attention might be paid in passing to the growing debate about the link between public finance and welfare dependency [1] - as a real solution in this area [1, 2] (ie cutting a significant part of the government cost of welfare by making new arrangements within the community) might make a huge difference to the availability of public funds for infrastructure - and also help overcome current account deficit problems associated with Australia's low savings rate.

If one tries to reorganize all of government to consolidate in a single agency all aspects of the issue that a particular interest group is concerned about, then it will not work.

The main problem with a 'super ministry' is not that it is hard for outsiders to deal with (though this is true because of its internal complexity) but that by clustering all functions that have to do with particular outputs (eg land use planning and infrastructure) into a single organization, the linkages between those functions and others which are critically required for other purposes can be damaged. And the need to reconnect those linkages will then become obvious, resulting in pressure for yet another reshuffle.

Another reshuffle? The Department of State Development (DSD) is already a 'super ministry' which absorbed a large number of functions from other areas (in the process creating resentments about its power). However it was also quite ineffectual because:

  • it was given a goal of developing the 'state' (ie directly getting involved in projects and business support services) rather than developing the economy (ie enhancing the ability of business and the community to develop the state); and
  • economic strategy has thus been naive.

If DSD is drawn into a 'super-ministry' concerned with land-use and infrastructure - then who is going to get serious about developing the economy? The latter goal is vital to creating a tax base that might support all the infrastructure investment that is believed to be needed.

And another? The Brisbane City Council was originally established as a 'super' agency to incorporate all of the functions required for effective management of the city of Brisbane. Its size enables it to take some coordinated initiatives - but the political influence which it gains from that size also results in some conflicts with state administration, thus making it hard to judge the net benefits.


  • there is nothing unique about the need for a diversity of different organizations to work together to produce an integrated product. This is characteristic of a market economy and of any system of public administration (though the coordination processes are different). When such integration fails, it is more likely to be a sign that there is something wrong with the coordination process, rather than that there is a need for a new organization to take over a great chunk of those functions. And as noted above there are symptoms of failure affecting many different areas, all of which need to be addressed simultaneously (which a 'land-use and infrastructure' super-ministry could not do);
  • no matter how big a 'super-ministry' is made, it can never be big enough.

The lack of a seamless national rail system (ie the existence of multiple rail gauges) is seen as a major obstacle (Shand A 'National rail policy on wrong track', FR, 10/11/03). A Queensland 'super-ministry' can't solve this problem.

The development of the Auslink and 'Roads to Recovery' programs (see above) would render ineffectual any state 'super-ministry' focused on coordinating land-use and transport.

Housing affordability is becoming a significant issue in land use management - and again this raises issues that can not be internalized in a state 'super-ministry' [1]. The latter refers to a Productivity Commission view that urban sprawl must be accepted to provide affordable housing - a case which appears to ignore circumstances which have led to the excess availability of credit for property purchases that has created a housing boom / bubble.  There are many other's with different views of this issue [1]

  • 'regional' coordination mechanisms always tend to have limited power because they do not participate directly in the budget process (as bids are produced by functional agencies) or in coordination machinery surrounding the cabinet / chief executive;
  • if planning for any function which involves some sort of 'system' rather than discrete elements (eg roads, rail, water, sewage, parks, hospitals, schools, beach protection, national parks) is to be credible, be taken seriously and result in more than reports which gather dust, it has to be closely linked to the related process of budgeting and implementation (even if all implementation involves is contract management). Thus to be effective (and not perpetually undermined by functional agencies) a ministry for planning and infrastructure would have to cover a very large number of specialized technical competencies in considerable depth. In fact it would become a mini-government in itself - requiring complex coordination procedures internally, with other state agencies - as well as with local / federal governments. In reality a highly centralized 'planning' super-ministry would become a source of coordination problems, rather than a solution to them;
  • internal coordination in super-ministries has been seen to be a major problem - traditionally leading to the conclusion that it is better to break them up and rely on general government coordination processes (Delion A., Administrative Problems in Coordination of Economic and Social Development, 14th International Congress of Administrative Sciences, 1970);    
  • the creation of Queensland's Families Department as a 'super-ministry' (covering diverse functions) is seen to have contributed to making it ungovernable and unaccountable [1]
  • effective management of organizations is now increasingly seen to require that their elements become smaller and more flexible [1, 2]

As a general point, it is better to change the goals and activities of what existing organizations do, rather than re-shuffling them into super-ministries.  If structural change is needed it should be made later on, not as a first step which is likely to have unforeseen consequences.

The support which various entities (eg local authorities) have reportedly given to the 'super-ministry' concept is yet another illustration of the lack of 'big system' management competencies in Queensland.

An Office of Urban Management and Infrastructure Coordination could Work - but Probably Won't

The Beattie Government proposed an Office of Urban Management and Infrastructure Coordination (OUMIC) under the Treasurer. Its function was described [1] as:

  • setting out a blue-print to ensure that developers meet minimum standards;
  • preventing councils approving projects that do not meet environmental goals - without acting as 'planning police' for local councils. The IPA will be altered to ensure that councils adhere to a state government regional plan - so that the big-picture is reflected in micro-planning by councils;
  • ensuring that planning is done at regional level - eg in terms of where development goes and where environmental areas are preserved.
  • ensuring that government infrastructure programs and natural resource management schemes are compatible with urban management objectives.

This seems superior to options which have been proposed before in that it has avoided the fallacy of the 'super-ministry' concept.

However while 're-organization' solutions (ie creating a new organization) always have superficial appeal, such an Office can not be effective - for reasons that can be seen by considering both of OUMIC's alternative authoritative and catalytic approaches to its task.

Authoritative option: The above description of OUMIC and some other media reports [1, 2] implied that it would have an authoritative executive role (ie be given the 'clout' needed to make decisions). However this can not work.

Though there is a lot of information now available concerning land use and infrastructure issues, there is not enough to set the regional architecture in concrete.

Moreover an OUMIC would not be able to actually 'plan' specific things (eg make definite decisions about land use or infrastructure) in its own right. This is because such decisions depend critically on information which is not accessible without the cooperation of the private sector and the good-will of large numbers of other public agencies.

It is not possible to make relevant decisions simply on the basis of (say) geographic data about land uses. Because of the inter-relationship between land use and infrastructure, very complex operation considerations related to various infrastructure functions must also be incorporated. As a general principle 'planning' can not be separated from the ongoing operations (and particularly from the decision making and budgeting processes) of the organizations involved in 'delivery'.

It also needs to be recognized that the 'commercialization' of various publicly provided infrastructure services has increased the problem of gaining willing cooperation - because, to a greater or lesser degree, their financial viability requires direct responsiveness to customer demand rather than to public policy. Thus even for 'public' infrastructure, adherence to any principles OUMIC might specify will require that they be expressed in a strict legal framework.

The complexity of Australia's federal - financial relationships also ensure that transport arrangements are increasingly dictated by those arrangements [1] - and thus only able to be realistically influenced at the state level by the specialized agencies (eg Main Roads and Intergovernmental Relations) involved in those highly political debates / disputes.

At the first sign of any attempt to make decisions on the basis of political authority which conflict with other's interests, the required cooperation / information is likely to be withdrawn no matter how much political 'clout' is supposed to be available.

The problem of planning infrastructure and urban growth is somewhat like that of planning an economy - where there are also very many organizations involved and the issues are very complex. In the case of an economy, market mechanisms are used because central 'planning' is defeated by the inability of any 'authority' to mobilize the required information and cooperation.

This would not prevent an OUMIC nominating an infrastructure 'plan'. However it  would prevent it remaining in existence for long enough for such a 'plan' to achieve any significant practical results.  

Thus any authoritative role for an OUMIC would necessarily only be temporary and not solve the ongoing problem of growth management in SE Queensland.

Coordination Option: Another analyst suggest that OUMIC's role would be primarily coordinative [1]. If such an approach is intended, attaching it to a top level ministry is a useful start.

However because 'planning' of outcomes can't be separated from organizations which have operational responsibilities, coordination machinery can only deal with systemic reform (ie how things are done) rather than with outcomes (what is done) - except in terms of clarifying a general 'vision'.

The types of (reform) issues which an OUMIC would need to address to achieve a real (ie systemic) improvement in the growth and infrastructure management situation are suggested above.

However the whole effort could easily 'run off the rails' because:

  • the reforms which need to be addressed to overcome the constipation in Queensland's public administration are a challenge to its politicisation, which has had bipartisan political support for over a decade;
  • a Treasury-controlled process for integrating planning and budgeting might be seen as expandable to aid in coordination of infrastructure and land use planning in SE Queensland - though it seems unrealistic and to be a factor in the general constipation of Queensland's public administration (see above);
  • the ideal which one knowledgeable observer suggested of leaving the coordination role to a bureaucrat with high professional standing sounds good - but the Public Service now can not unfortunately be ascribed any high professional standing (eg see Anecdotes);
  • there is already an Office (of the Coordinator General) which has existed for around 70 years whose legislative mandate (the State Development and Public Works Organization Act - or whatever it is currently called) has frequently been envisaged and revised to provide scope for the same sorts of functions which the OUMIC would have. But it has never been effective in this role (despite rhetoric about political support, very strong legislation and nominal control of public infrastructure investment). Reasons for this problem appear to include:
    • the vital importance of taking a cooperative approach to achieve the envisaged goals (as noted above) - but
    • cooperative arrangements break down as soon as the political system takes an interest because:
      • there is a lack of top-level management competencies in the Queensland community - and a very 'hands-on' political style;
      • local political interests use the arrangements for lobbying the state for support which the state lacks the will or ability to provide. This was what led to downfall of Queensland's Regional Coordination Councils in the 1970s;
      • the system tends to be co-opted by state politicians for 'deal making' to benefit favoured interest groups - which eventually leads to a preference for control of the system by individuals with only low-level 'project' skills;
  • there is a need to consider (a) why OUMIC has been envisaged as linked to the Treasurer and (b) the risk it could be affected by Treasury priorities. In Queensland Treasury traditionally focuses on public revenue raising and the development of a corporatist 'businesses' (hopefully to generate revenue) and at times this has been to the detriment of other public policy issue which it impacts upon. Pressure to raise revenue is intense at present (see Growing Pressure for Increased State Taxation). It would be unfortunate if OUMIC  were to be considered as a vehicle for increasing revenue - perhaps by using it to recommend an addition to Queensland's 'pseudo-commercial' businesses. For example, DLGP's proposals for a Land Commission may or may not be a good idea, but if created primarily as a public revenue tool in a non-competitive environment a Land Commission would be unlikely to be desirable;
  • there are other risks to the integrity of an OUMIC given the dysfunctions which seems to be growing in Queensland's state administration

A regional plan produced by OUMIC in late 2004 is discussed separately in SEQ Regional Plan 2004 

Focusing on projects is a bad way of developing infrastructure or the public sector

Some members of Queensland's community appear to believe naively that giving political impetus to individual projects is the best way to make the public sector perform better. And various (especially Commonwealth) political leaders have begun announcing ad-hoc road 'projects' which are supposed to fix urban traffic congestion problems [1].

However urban traffic congestion can't be relieved by building any particular road but only by improving the transport system generally. It does not matter which point of congestion one starts with, a similar conclusion must emerge because (a) the effectiveness of any part of the transport system depends on the network as a whole and (b) people adjust where they live, work and shop to neutralize the benefits of any localized new infrastructure.

For example: Congestion on Moggill Rd in Brisbane's west has led to local suggestions that an old sub-arterial road reserve should be developed to bye-pass shopping areas in Kenmore (Finnila R., 'Drivers see red in 10km bank-up', Courier Mail, 7/5/04). However, the solution can not be so simple because:

  • such a bypass, which diverted Moggill Rd traffic onto the Centenary Highway, would result in diverted traffic backing up as it encountered (and compounded) already heavy peak-hour congestion on that Highway - congestion that is going to get worse as Springfield (and similar areas to Brisbane's SW) grow;
  • a basic problem is that inbound Centenary Road traffic at the Toowong round-about has nowhere to go - because of the public rejection many years ago of the Route 20 proposal for an inner-suburban western bypass;
  • tunnel proposals by Brisbane's Lord Mayor [1] might fix this in 15-20 years time - though most of his long tunnel options seem likely to be too expensive for Brisbane's limited traffic volumes. Moreover those proposals involve two major tunnels feeding into the Centenary Highway at Toowong [Courier Mail, 18/3/05] - and this seems likely to merely change the character of traffic congestion on that Highway (ie instead of the Centenary Highway being blocked by constraints on Milton Road, the merely-4-lane Centenary Highway would itself become the bottleneck);

These inter-relationships then require that any attempt to alleviate Moggill Rd congestion (which is not significantly different to that affecting the users of many Brisbane roads) be integrated with decisions about:

  • the Western suburbs road network generally  - which can not be separated from debates about:
    • upgrading Ipswich Road - which in turn relates to questions about freight systems in Brisbane and about the freight role of other transport modes;
    • options for upgrading Brisbane's main arterial road networks;
    • a prospective Brisbane outer-western bye-pass to reduce pressure on all inner-urban roads; and
  • serious efforts to develop public transport because:
    • during school holidays the congestion problems on Moggill Rd at Kenmore seems 'magically' to evaporate - strongly suggesting that a public transport system which took more seriously the task of conveying students to schools would be a viable alternative to building more road capacity;
    • public transport must progressively become the main transport option over coming decades as Brisbane becomes a genuinely large city - which won't be achieved unless this fact is born in mind now. This will not be meaningful without attention also to ...
      • land use management to increase densities around public transport;
      • ways to reduce the transport task (by enabling people to shop, work, be educated etc closer to where they live);

Furthermore there is a close relationship between land-use and transport infrastructure - with 'accessibility' (the time to get to a desired destination) as the critical factor. The more road capacity is provided to an area to increase 'accessibility' the more people will move into that area until its accessibility is reduced to something like the average for comparable areas elsewhere in the city.

It is thus essentially impossible to reduce congestion by building specific roads (because people adjust where they live, work and shop to take advantage of it). Progress can only really be made by improving the transport system as a whole.

Moreover capital for infrastructure investment is very limited relative to the potential demands on it, and will be wasted unless a systematic process is used to evaluate the benefits and costs of individual investment options and select the beneficial options. Political announcements of expensive ad hoc projects do not allow efficient resource allocation.

Upgrading the whole transport system can only be achieved through effective public institutions who are able to consistently identify, analyze and implement constructive investments and services year in and year out over a long period of time.

Furthermore, while it may seem to outside observers that an emphasis on 'projects' could be the best way force public institution to 'get their act together', this can be counter-productive.

The lessons of history (based on the author's personal observations and study): Queensland's Public Service was changed from a backward (clerical) operation in the 1960s into a cohesive and purposeful organization by the late 1970s. This was achieved by what would now be called a strategic management process which involved a respectful process of focusing existing organizations on working out how they were going to adapt to strategic issues. This eventually gave Queensland a deserved reputation of being the easiest state in Australia to deal with. This was undermined in 1980s when government machinery was centrally focused on 'major' investment projects. This: 

  • broke down the basis for agency / staff cooperation and responsibility - by its tendency to over-ride all other considerations;
  • put low-level managers (ie those with 'project' skills) into many senior roles; and
  • undermined the effectiveness of ordinary operations by the priority given to 'special cases'. Thus for every 10 'big projects' that got up, 990 smaller ones were somewhat frustrated - and the 'big projects' involved far less productive use of human and capital resources than the smaller ones so per-capital state product remained relatively low (and the state's tax base remained weak ..... so Treasury continued relying on dipping into the pockets of taxpayers in other states - see Review of Grants Commission Arrangements);
  • allowed the emergence of police and political corruption (because no one was really 'minding the store').

'Reform' by naive political advisers in the 1990s (who did not know that they didn't know what knowledge and skills were required) then laid the basis for putting administration in the early 21st century back to where it had been in the 1960s  (see Towards Good Government in Queensland).

Firstly, the machinery that was created to 'keep government honest' in the era following the 1980s' Fitzgerald inquiry and to make government 'business-like' was described by one expert observer as creating the most complex system of government in the Western world [1]. About 15 years later this was recognized to be creating 'red tape' that made government ineffective [1]. According to a recent 'insider' observation, middle management (the backbone of the system) now appears to be dominated by those who were junior clerks 10 years ago, and who advanced by moving paper without asking questions. In other words Queensland has regressed to the 1960s in this respect.

Moreover economic strategy remained fixated on (unproductive) 'big projects', and the long overdue real development of Queensland's economy was aborted.

It is not at all hard to fix these institutional deficiencies in the medium term, but it won't be achieved if the main emphasis is given to 'projects' and no practical advice is given to politicians about how to manage 'big systems'.

Many of the infrastructure projects currently envisaged may be worth doing. But if politicians are pressured to make those 'projects' the central focus of government then all that the community will get is (a) those 'projects' - even if they turn out to be poorly conceived and (b) bad government.

Regional Authority

A Regional 'Authority' [1] is not a solution to the problem, because 'planning' for any function which involves a system of some sort (rather than unconnected elements) is meaningless if separated from budgeting and implementation. A Regional 'Authority' would find itself in competition with state agencies and strong local authorities such as Brisbane City Council - and would lose such contests because the latter have the detailed information without which the 'Authority' will simply make itself look silly.

Queensland had a Regional Development Bureau under the Goss Government which developed many well intentioned (but naive) proposals - and was quickly carved-up in cabinet by the functional agencies.  Likewise the Integrated Planning Act envisaged that it would provide the framework for 'planning'. But this is not something that can be separated from the mainstream operation of agencies.

The problem can't be solved by addressing it from a 'planning' or 'regional' viewpoint - but only be revising the mainstream administrative processes of government as a whole (perhaps as suggested above). The latter would best be achieved by asking professional functional agencies how they suggest dealing with the problem rather than setting up a separate body to tell them how to do so. Such a process is clearly more difficult in a politicized environment.

DLGP Proposal

The Department of Local Government and Planning has suggested the creation of an authority to coordinate planning in the region; the creation of a land commission; and using restrictions on access to basic services as a way to control land use [1]. These options would need detailed evaluation - though:

Brisbane City Council view

Letter from Council Maureen Hayes (Deputy Mayor and Chairperson Transport & Major Projects, BCC, 27/1/04): "While there is no single “transport / land use scheme” under the current IPA planning system, the Brisbane City Council will continue to work towards aligning development decisions under CityPlan with Brisbane City Council’s long term transport, economic, social and environmental objectives. Council will also continue to be pro active in regional planning through State Government initiatives such as the SEQ 2021 process. It is important that Brisbane City Council continue to work towards strengthening existing governance arrangements in place under the South East Regional Organisation of Councils (SEQROC) and the Regional Coordination Committee (RCC) to ensure South East Queensland local governments have a say in future planning decisions.

Brisbane City Council’s Transport Plan for Brisbane was formally adopted by Council in September 2003 and is providing strategic guidance in our investment in roads and public transport infrastructure and services. Council is strongly committed to achieving the Transport Plan objectives and is taking a lead role in developing workable solutions that recognise the existing strong car culture but also the imperative to move toward higher levels of public transport use. To this end, high levels of coordination are currently being achieved between the State Government and Brisbane City Council through joint participation under the Capital City Urban Transit Group and the Translink Advisory Board. These entities are in place to:

  • Steer the integrated ticketing and fares project,
  • Endorse strategic goals for urban transport,
  • Ensure partnership prevails,
  • Endorse plans and strategies, and
  • Monitor performance and progress

Funding the needed infrastructure and services improvements will be a critical challenge for the region in the coming years. Brisbane City Council will continue to work with the State Government in identifying alternative forms and sources of investment for initiatives such as the North South Bypass Tunnel.

More financial commitment is however required from the Commonwealth Government to fill the funding gap for a wide range of urban initiatives including transport projects. Currently the Commonwealth Government does not recognize any responsibility to assist Australia’s urban areas with the cost of accommodating record population increases.

There is no silver bullet for addressing our growth challenges. We must continue to build on our successes and where it is required, change how we make decisions to achieve outcomes that are good for Brisbane and the region. "

Infrastructure funding

Infrastructure Funding

A view has apparently taken hold in Queensland Government that private finance is able to produce a significant increase in the level of infrastructure investment [1]. This is naive because:

  • if the ultimate purchaser is government, then no matter who borrows the money to initiate an infrastructure project repayments must still come from the same tax revenues; and
  • if users pay, such arrangements could be set up without private finance;

However given the extent to which Queensland's public infrastructure investment has been increased (by creative accounting) and apparently expended recklessly without seriously considering whether it was being used optimally, the conclusion that private financing is vital is probably mainly a result of understanding the weakness of the tax base and the limited options available to increase revenue through increasing taxes.

Even though Australia's governments have sound balance sheets by comparison with some elsewhere, borrowing to fund infrastructure is problematical because:

  • existing recurrent expenditures (including debt service) will roughly balance revenues. Where the operating budget is under extreme pressure (as now in Queensland if the effect of the unprecedented 2003-04 property boom is discounted), it must be difficult to service new debts no matter what level of  pre-existing net assets / debts a government has. Moreover; 
  • states who would have to do most infrastructure funding have narrow tax bases (eg Queensland only has discretion over <25% of its revenue) and thus a quite minor percentages increases in aggregate state spending would require quite large percentage increases in state taxes; and
  • the funding problem can not be resolved through increased federal financial payments;

This predicament probably implies that funding infrastructure investment and good quality public services requires a determined effort to strengthen Queensland's tax base - perhaps by: