CPDS Home Contact Professionalism: Chronological Summary


The Origin and Spread of the 'Queensland effect'  

The 'Queensland effect' is an expression that has been applied to a government's unexpected defeat at an election through a protest vote - and is based on the debacle experienced by the Goss Government in 1995.      

This expression has apparently entered the language as something politicians elsewhere fear. For example, this phenomenon was reportedly of real concern to the Blair government in the UK (eg see Walker J. 'Blair pitch project: a sequel shapes up', The Australian, 24-25/3/00, and Taylor L. 'Blair just bubbles along', Financial Review of 4/6/01).   

It can also be noted that the Blair Government (which had apparently been influenced by the 'success' of Goss Government reforms in Queensland) was portrayed by the conservatives in the recent UK election as a 'bubble' which could be pricked (Taylor op cit). And  there seems to be general consensus that the 'bubble' label is factually justified (ie that the Blair Government  has been insubstantial)

Consider for example:

  • articles which point out across-the-board problems such as Bagwell S. 'Cruel Britannia', The Bulletin, 15/5/01, and Quiggin J. 'Blair's third way is dead', Financial Review, 7/6/01;
  • concerns about administrative failures resulting from the breakdown of the technical competence of the UK Public Service that were recently highlighted by the architect of the ALP's recent Knowledge Nation proposal - see Jones B. 'Can we make Australia a Knowledge Nation?', Address at Macquarie University, 27/4/01);
  • there has apparently been a general view of that administration as 'more spin than substance' [1]

And despite rhetoric to the contrary by those responsible for the problem, the original 'Queensland effect' was simply the result of a 'bubble' (ie of illusions that were created about reform and progressive policies that were actually quite insubstantial). This situation is documented in some detail in Toward Good Government in Queensland (1995) - and in other related documents. 

In brief Toward Good Government in Queensland is an analysis of how a poorly conceived and incompetently managed process of public service 'reform' eroded the professional capabilities needed to implement the Goss Government's widely supported policy agenda. It explained the problem in terms of: the effect of Wilenski’s mis-understanding of the causes of the Whitlam Government’s reform problems;  the effect of the ‘Yes Minister’ school of populist public administration theory; managerialism; the adoption of a 'commercial' focus in public administration which undermined government's ability to really 'govern'; and the inability of starry-eyed and inexperienced ‘reformers’ to understand that reality is more complex than their political rhetoric - and that, without the tacit knowledge that experience brings, ‘reform’ could not lead to practical outcomes. However other factors involved included: the bi-partisan support for Public Service politicisation that emerged in Queensland during the 1990s; and influence of the 'rorting' culture of the ALP's AWU faction that dominated under the Goss Government (see Section 5 of Detailed Discussion of Queensland's Challenge). The nature of real Public Service professionalism; (which includes experience and practical competence as well as theory) - and why politicisation is likely to erode essential (tacit) capabilities - is further considered in Note 3 on the detailed version of a proposal for Renewal of Queensland's Public Service on a professional basis.

The loss of practical administrative and policy competence resulting from mismanagement of reform led to the numerous failures (eg in health, education and infrastructure) that were associated with the Goss regime. However most significantly, in the face of a major requirement for economic change, the emerging competencies required to successfully manage that change were largely eliminated. The result was: economic under-performance - especially in marginal rural, coastal and metropolitan regions; the growth of social symptoms; and the political instability that was ultimately given expression through the One Nation phenomenon. An attempt to explain what went wrong with Queensland's (Australia's) attempt to deal with economic change is presented in Defects in Economic Tactics, Strategy and Outcomes. In simple terms what Defects argues is that (a) Queensland (Australia) has to move to a knowledge economy and (b) industrial era methods for economic management which were continued in the 1990s, because the Public Service's skill base had been damaged by politicisation, were no longer adequate. 

A perception of political arrogance has often accompanied sudden electoral reversals - and this probably arose from the fact that elected leaders, having surrounded themselves with cronies and 'yes men', had made it hard to recognize the need to communicate with segments of the community who did not share their assumptions.

A Recurrence of the 'Queensland Effect'?    

There is an increasing chance that the 'Queensland effect' could strike Queensland again - because the Beattie Government has also been limited to giving an 'illusion' of progress because of deficiencies in the Public Service .    

Evidence that Queensland was not being effectively governed in 2001 is presented in the detailed / evidence version of Queensland's Challenge  (see Note 1 and Sections 6 and 7 in particular), as well as in its Continuation. Indications of the loss of professionalism that has increasingly plagued Queensland's (and other) Public Services is also available in summary form.    

Queensland’s Challenge addresses severe current problems in: society generally; economic competitiveness and strategy; the political system; the Public Service; and public finance. In particular this refers to steps which Queensland's administration has recently taken to boost innovation (part of the Smart State initiative) and to plan Strategic Infrastructure for Queensland's Growth, which are both critically important functions that are being addressed through 'illusory' programs.

And Queensland's Premier appeared to expect a recurrence of the 'Queensland Effect'. 

Mr Beattie, has indicated a fear 'that despite holding 68 of the 89 seats in the Queensland Parliament, ... his political opponents would urge people to cast a protest vote in 2004 - the same phenomenon which nearly cost Labor government in 1995. 'It could happen again', he said, 'we can lose the next election'. " (Franklin M. 'Beattie fears ghost of election future', Courier Mail, 24/12/01)

Furthermore symptoms of a possible re-occurrence were seen to be emerging in July 2003 [1]

14 July 2001 (and modified later)