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ATTACHMENT - AUTOCRATIC IGNORANCE PURGES THE PUBLIC
Covering letter June 2001 Continuation
This attachment deals with a private matter of natural justice. It covers only one story from a period when hundreds (or thousands) of others also appeared to be treated unjustly and incompetently.
I [John Craig] had been employed for over 24 years in the Coordinator General's Department and later in the Premier's Department. During the first decade I was involved in administrative coordination at a senior level, and studied the subject in depth. Over the decade to 1992 I engaged, with others, in high standard R&D on economic policy options - resulting in my achieving a very significant breakthrough in understanding economic development as a systemic issue, which differed from the problem of merely achieving growth in low productivity activities. This included (but goes beyond) the emphasis on industry clusters which became trendy in the 1990s. This work was supported by referees, and could easily have been explained to a technically competent and receptive audience.
Following the change in Government in 1989, staff: who had no political affiliation; who had conducted themselves professionally under prior difficult circumstances; and whose expressed policy advice was almost identical to that of the incoming administration, were subjected to disgraceful treatment. For example, staff were given duties which did not suit their skills which prevented them demonstrating their ability to do their jobs; and there was blank Ministerial refusal to communicate with senior officers.
Political appointees made changes to the economic development functions of the Premier's Department despite apparent ignorance of current economic development issues and techniques (eg it was impossible to get any meaningful discussion of substantive issues at staff meetings).
I was initially consulted by several of those making arrangements for the incoming administration - as I had previously energetically analyzed the need for reform and development. However this attitude evaporated, when I pointed out (correctly as it turned out) that methods proposed to put into practice the politically endorsed goals for reform (which everyone saw as desirable) would be unlikely to work (eg that administrative reform would be ineffective, if it did not build on existing capabilities).
The Public Sector Management Commission (PSMC) reviewed the Premier's Department and recommended an increased emphasis on economic policy issues (ie to promote development of the capabilities of the whole economy) and a reduced emphasis on major projects. The reviewer stated (privately) that this was in accordance with approaches I (and others) had suggested. It was also compatible with the Government's pre-election policies. Despite Cabinet acceptance, this approach was inexplicably reversed in practice by the creation of 21 project management positions in the Economic Development Division, with only one related to policy. After filling positions on this basis, the Division was operationalised with a policy group of seven. This disreputable manoeuvre squeezed out most of the staff whose dedicated public service had created a pool of real economic development policy knowledge and expertise. It further reduced the potential rate, quality, sustainability and independence of economic growth, and biased benefits towards foreign investors rather than the community.
The Difference can be illustrated by considering value-adding to mineral production. Queensland has been encouraging capital intensive 'processing' of minerals, irrespective of whether much value is added in doing so. By contrast, by the mid 1980s the USA appeared to have accepted that primarily capital intensive production would no longer sustain high value-added - and so its mineral processing operations (and many others) were 'exported' to less developed economies (allowing the US to access cheap commodities, and to export environmental problems). The skill base which was squeezed out of the Premier's Department, was that which would have understood this, and that value-added was only likely to be high if competitive advantages were created in operations which involved the processing of minerals (eg via specialized financing packages; knowledge intensive operations involving innovation; or the development of a supportive industry cluster).
It is relevant to note that: our per capita economic production remains well below the national average, which has been in long term decline relative to developed and developing economies (a decline which accelerated with devaluation to accommodate the Asian financial crisis); 'growth' has been sustained by accepting ever lower relative income levels, and financed by running down natural assets and increasing foreign financial obligations; unemployment remains a serious problem - while under-employment (related to poor quality jobs) is arguably worse; many regions experience politically significant social symptoms from failing to adjust to new economic circumstances; and growth has unnecessarily large environmental consequences.
I applied for the only policy position available (for policy research and development in the Economic Development Division), but was not granted an interview. I was told that there had been many higher quality applicants, but saw no evidence of this. As I had not been interviewed I lodged a grievance on the basis of: the quality of my prior work; the emergence of new and more difficult requirements for economic development; and the circumstances in the department which prevented these matters being appreciated. I had extensive documentary evidence, plus a panel of about 50 reputable and knowledgeable persons who could verify various aspects of my case.
The Department responded to my grievance by suggesting that it was a challenge to Government policy, rather than accepting it as a questioning of whether the Department had lost its ability to assess technical merit in a complex policy area. It can be noted that the new Government's pre-election policies had claimed that merit in Public Service appointments would be supported, even if contrary to policy.
The Department refused my suggestion of a senior Brisbane consultant to investigate the grievance, and selected an investigator who subsequently declared himself unable to assess on merit the technical issues on which my grievance was largely based.
An aside: The consultant I suggested to investigate the grievance was later engaged by the Department to aid in organizing its Economic Development Division, and (privately) described it as a 'bunch of beginners'.
After the grievance investigator had partly disqualified himself as above, the Premier's Department decided that substantive matters related to best professional practice could not be considered in the grievance. Investigations would be limited to procedural matters. This decision was clearly arbitrary as the PSMC Grievance Director originally told me that substantive questions could (under some circumstances) be considered. This decision excluded those aspects which made my case watertight, rather than merely strong. Written requests for an explanation of the decision were ignored.
As I was seeking means for review of this arbitrary decision, I was informed that it was intended to proceed with my immediate retrenchment (which would eliminate my right to an investigation of the grievance). This was based on the view that a redundancy process (resulting from my failure to gain the position about which the grievance was raised) was independent of the grievance process. If I was conveniently retrenched before the grievance was resolved this was just too bad. I had noted in writing an inevitable link which existed between the grievance and the redundancy process. The Department had not replied to this.
In the face of arrangements made for my immediate retrenchment (ie it had already been approved for 8 May 1992 by the Governor in Council), a Fair treatment Appeal was held under rushed circumstances which: prejudiced the likely outcome; breached PSMC procedural guidelines; and impeded my ability to prepare a case or obtain representation. My appeal sought to gain time for the grievance to be resolved before redundancy proceedings were undertaken, and a finding that there might characteristics in the grievance process which sometimes prevented fair and just treatment. The appeal was dismissed. In the process the Tribunal appeared to accept the Department's view that my grievance itself was invalid (even though this was agreed to be 'off limits' and no evidence was presented). The findings further failed to comment on most of the difficult and unresolved questions on which my appeal was based, and appear arbitrary because of the lack of any clear reasons for them. The finding was, in effect, that it was 'fair' for the Department to prevent merit being considered in the above grievance, and 'fair' to proceed with involuntary retrenchment though the grievance was unresolved.
In July 1992 the Chair of the PSMC refused requests to consider these concerns about the Fair Treatment Appeal, and his successor indicated in August 1994 that he considered the treatment I received to be fair and proper.
As a result of the actions of his Department, two requests were made to the then Premier to initiate action to look into the matter. The second of these (26 May 1992) had requested that the dispute be resolved either by (a) his Director General providing a letter acknowledging that the Department's treatment had been unfair, unjust and damaging or (b) reinstatement from 8 May 1992 without loss of pay or benefits to allow the grievance about staff selection to be resolved - including consideration of merit. Neither request was even acknowledged.
Repeated requests to the Premier's Department were also given meaningless 'brush offs', which did not acknowledge the substantive issues I had raised about merit in senior Public Service staffing.
A case study was submitted in April 1992 to the Electoral and Administrative Review Commission (EARC) because of that Commission's brief to examine merit appeal. The Fitzgerald Inquiry had expressed concern about the absence of general mechanisms for review of administrative decisions on their merit (Section 3.4); and the 'incestuous' process for giving advice which becomes like confirming opinions rather than challenging them (Section 3.5.1). Beyond acknowledging that the case study might be relevant to merit appeal in general terms, EARC said there was nothing it could do.
The Parliamentary Commissioner for Administrative Investigations also examined this matter, and found that it would have been anomalous for a grievance to be investigated on the basis of merit, as there was no basis for merit appeal in relation to Senior Executive Service appointments (through grievances were not the same as Appeals). The Deputy Parliamentary Commissioner also concluded that existing arrangements potentially allowed injustices to occur, which could not be resolved.
The situation was drawn to the attention of Members of the Legislative Assembly on several occasions between May 1993 and October 1995. Many Members requested advice from various agencies and Ministers (which invariably resulted in autocratic self-justification) - but none pursued the matter.
Several authorities (ie Premier's Department; Premier; and the PSMC) were asked how merit was supposed to be ensured by then current staff selection procedures, and how a person in my situation was expected to get fair and just treatment. Only the PSMC attempted a justification of existing procedures. It outlined those procedure, which idealistically ignored the possibility that politicization of senior appointments might eliminate agencies' ability to recognize technical merit. No authority was prepared to suggest how a person in my situation had been expected to gain fair and just treatment.
My union, the State Public Service Federation, asked the PSMC in December 1994 for an investigation of the matter - but no action resulted.
At no stage in the above grievance and dispute process did I encounter anyone either willing or able to assess what constitutes technical merit in the substantive policy area for which I initially applied for a senior policy innovation and development position. Any claim that senior level staffing in the Queensland Government had been based on merit in the early 1990s would clearly be false.
To demonstrate the significance of the Premier's Department's refusal to allow merit to be considered, I produced and circulated papers highlighting weaknesses: in economic strategies (Leading State; and From Strength to Strength); in (1994/95) budget strategy; and in SEQ 2001. These were well received by professionals. Several Ministers reacted with strong endorsement of existing economic development programs - which arguments mainly showed the limitations of the advice on which they were reliant.
Following the electoral defeat of the Labor Government in 1995, an analysis (Towards Good Government in Queensland) was submitted to the Labor Party's Election Review Committee. This showed how politically driven public sector 'reform' after 1989 had eroded the skill base of the Public Service, and led to its inability to give practical effect to the Labor Government's policy rhetoric. The consequent failure of service delivery, and of real progress in developing the economy, was suggested to have led to the dis-satisfaction reflected in the 1995 election result. I received no acknowledgment
In 1996, I (foolishly) accepted advice to suspend my dispute with the Premier's Department. I was appointed to an A08 position with the Department on several short term contracts, and was promised a permanent appointment. The latter, for reasons which were never obvious, failed to eventuate.
However the Public Service did not function very effectively under the Coalition Government. It suffered serious systemic difficulties namely: a cohort of supposedly 'senior' staff many of whom lacked the level of knowledge and skills required to perform effectively; and the (predictable) failure to create conditions in which this could be corrected by just politically appointing another set of CEOs.
With the next change in government in 1998 (which virtually re-created the 'regime of 1995') an early priority of the new Department of State Development in July 1998 was to terminate my temporary A08 position without discussion or explanation, even though:
In response to my request for the reasons for terminating my contract, the Department of State Development officially cited financial constraints.
Termination of my temporary contract, forced me to resume my dispute with the Premier's Department.
In response to a new request to the Premier's Department to resolve the dispute <1>, the Department stated (August 1998) that the issue had been carefully examined - and that there was nothing that could be done because a Fair Treatment Appeal had been held in 1992. Once again, the Department hid behind 'correct procedures' and refused to allow substantive matters to be considered. And amazingly it was able to 'carefully examine' the issues involved without once even mentioning that my dispute was about its refusal to allow merit to be considered in relation to a senior appointment. It also failed to provide requested reasons for not allowing merit to be considered, and did not respond to my request for advice about how a person in my situation could then be expected to gain fair and just treatment.
The Premier's Office indicated that it could add nothing to his Department's views.
I again drew the issue to the attention of Members of the Legislative Assembly in August 1998 <2>, and subsequently highlighted the consequences of politicisation of senior Public Service appointments eg:
Many Members referred the matter to agencies or Ministers for advice (and some expressed concern), but none followed the matter up.
In October 1998 one opposition MLA indicated interest in ensuring that Public Service appointments were based on merit. However he also expressed doubt that past injustices could be resolved.
There certainly is a need for reform so that senior appointments are again based on real merit, but a system built on unresolved injustices can never be stable, and should not be not accepted.
Continuation (added in June 2001)
Members of Parliament have been taking a gradually increasing interest in Public Service merit.
For example, in December 1998, the Minister for Health wrote to me indicating her belief that the Beattie Government was committed to a professional Public Service, and that this policy was working.
However her view seemed to take no account of the adverse effect on the whole Public Service of politicizing Chief Executive appointments, or of the effect that unresolved past injustices and destruction of professional competencies must have on the credibility and capability of the Service <1>.
In January 1999, the then Minister for State Development responded to my comments about the difficulties which politicisation introduces in defining a relevant 'sense of direction for the future' <2>. He highlighted the creation of a Strategic Policy Division in his Department.
However as endless (alleged) 'strategic' units had been established over the previous decade often without a realistic knowledge and skill base, and as politicisation would bias emphasis towards 'who you know' rather than 'what you know', this did not seem likely to be effective.
In April 1999, both the Premier and the then Leader of the Opposition were quoted in the press as reluctantly endorsing the politicisation of Chief Executive appointments. I wrote to both leaders pointing out that such an approach must purge the most capable staff from the Public Service generally (because of the threat they posed to the credibility of political opportunist's), and that the Public Service had degenerated into a disreputable state as a result <3>.
In the absence of any visible response I wrote to all MLA's asking if Parliament also endorsed politicisation - and highlighted evidence of the consequences (ie anecdotes suggesting administrative weaknesses, and the failure to effectively cope with changed economic conditions) <4>.
Replies from both the Government and the Opposition then indicated the former maintained that Public Service appointments were being based on merit, while the latter maintained that it didn't really matter as Parliament was ultimately responsible.
The Government's position was ridiculous because it implied merit in past appointments when merit had not really been a required consideration, and completely overlooked what would happen when politically oriented selection panels themselves lacked the relevant knowledge and skills to genuinely assess merit <5>.
The Opposition's approach was less farcical but was quite inadequate eg it seemed to be based on US traditions through Queensland lacked the institutions the US has (eg major companies, and independent public policy research bodies) in which candidate Chief Executives could gain the required abilities <6>.
In August 1999, a Government MLA wrote indicating her belief that the Public Service was effective, a-political and reflected appointment on merit.
However appearances can be deceptive - because the problem lies in the absence of high level knowledge, skills and experience - which non-experts can't easily assess; because politicisation implies mainly an inability to provide competent independent advice - rather than partisanship; and because others certainly had a vastly different impression about 'merit' in appointments <7>.
In September 1999, the Premier's Office wrote concerning another observer's view that a real strategic capability could never emerge in the current Public Service, a view which I had quoted <8>. It was stated that the Government took such a strategic capability seriously.
However this goal seemed likely to be hard to achieve given the very demanding requirements for such a capability, the lack of the complementary capabilities in the Queensland community and the fact that political appointees typically lack these capabilities - and have proven to be threatened by (and thus have tended to eliminate) them <9>.
Further evidence of problems in Queensland's Public Service has been provided from time to time. In particular, I wrote to all MLAs:
in July 1999, highlighting further anecdotes from informed observers indicating the mess into which Queensland's administration seemed to be degenerating - and summarizing the reasons that politically oriented 'reform' in the early 1990s had led to this predicament <10>.
in November 1999, concerning the fact that the Department of State Development's innovation plan (a key plank of the Smart State strategy) suffered from numerous technical weaknesses which would ensure that it could not genuinely result in commercially and economically relevant innovation systems in Queensland - but merely produce costly 'toys' for the political system to play with <11>.
in August 2000, concerning the inability of the Department of State Development's report on Strategic Infrastructure to achieve its goal of overcoming serious weaknesses which have been created in Queensland's infrastructure systems - and about the critical implications which this could have for state finances and economic development <12>.
Despite such evidence, the Officers of Parliament whose role should include providing early warning of such problems have been slow to offer comment.
In particular, in 1993 the Ombudsman's Office had apparently realized that legislation which prevented appeals against SES appointments potentially allowed irresolvable injustices (see above) - yet it did not then appear to draw this clearly unsatisfactory situation to the attention of Members of Parliament.
And in August 1999, both the Auditor General and the Criminal Justice Commission started investigations of the granting of an Internet Casino license to Gocorp (a company with Labor Party connections). I wrote to both bodies highlighting indicators of the deterioration of administrative capabilities in the Public Service - and suggesting that this be considered in their investigations.
However in the event both bodies merely considered whether correct procedures had been followed, and concluded that no one did anything wrong (which provided no help in identifying how a clearly foolish decision had then emerged) <13>.
I wrote to the Auditor General asking about the role of Statutory Officers when the Public Service fails <14, 15>. On receiving only vague information, I then further wrote to the Parliamentary Committees which liaise with and over-see the Ombudsman and the Auditor General <16, 17>. Once again this led nowhere.
Despite these slow responses, over a period of time there have been indications that some other bodies are taking an increased interest in the effectiveness of Queensland's Public Service.
In October 1999, the CJC wrote to me concerning its interest in the problem of Public Service politicisation - in response to which I highlighted the immense difficulties which non-experts must have in realistically assessing top-level capabilities <18>.
In March 2000, an ex-senior NSW Government official suggested in an address to the Brisbane Institute that the practice of chopping and changing senior officials in Queensland should be ended. Accordingly in April 2000 I wrote to the Brisbane Institute and to all MLAs <19> tentatively suggesting a method whereby Queensland's Public Service might be renewed on a professional basis.
Finally in August 2000, the Government established a new Office of Public Service Merit and Equity after serious problems had apparently emerged in the pre-existing Office of the Public Service.
I immediately wrote to the acting Executive Director of the new Office mentioning my unresolved dispute with the Premier's Department, and the consequences of past failures to take Public Service merit seriously <20>. However my request for information about the new Office's role in promoting professionalism in the Public Service gained only a superficial reply.
In September 2000, the Premier wrote to me indicating his belief that Public Service appointments were being based on merit, so as to ensure a professional Service.
Unfortunately his view did not take account of: the legacy of past ineptitude and injustice which required fundamental renewal; the inconsistency between his ideal and the practical politicisation of Chief Executive appointments; the apparent lack of grass roots credibility his claims had; and the evidence of severe administrative difficulties confronting his Government <21>.
It has become increasingly apparent that Queensland's institutional problems are not limited its Public Service - because, for historical reasons, its Parliament itself has not been able to be a very effective body.
For example, in March 1999, a school teacher highlighted in a press article the juvenile farce which her students had seen Queensland's Parliament to be.
I wrote to the teacher, with copies to MLAs, arguing that Queensland's Parliament has been weak and relatively ineffectual because of the heavy dependence of the state's economy on compliance with external investors, and the lack of independent research capabilities to provide 'raw material' on options available to MLAs to exert any informed restraint over the actions of Executive Government <22>.
Further concerns about Queensland's political system emerged in October 2000, when evidence being presented to the Shepherdson Inquiry suggested the existence of a rorting culture in the ALP's AWU faction in relation to filling important political positions.
Because this faction had dominated the Goss Government which conducted the Public Service 'reform' process in the early 1990s, I then again wrote to the Director General of the Premier's Department requesting that he take meaningful action to resolve my dispute <23>. His reply again claimed a lack of authority to consider the matter. Two other communications related to this may also be noted.
Naively in October 2000, a ministerial adviser had written to me expressing confidence that the Premier's Department would give the above submission full consideration - a view which was clearly over-optimistic because of the many established interests who could not wish any serious attention to be given to what had actually happened in the Public Service 'reform' process, and others who would be in professional difficulties if high standards were really to be expected for Queensland's economic and administrative performance <24>.
In November 2000 a senior Minister wrote to the Premier concerning my representations - and was apparently ultimately told by the Premier's office (in April 2001) that it was 'not necessary' to provide him with any information about the matter.
I also drew the parallel between allegations of AWU practices in filling important political positions, and what had happened to the Public Service in the early 1990s, to the attention of the Shepherdson Inquiry <25>.
In March 2001, I wrote again to all MLAs highlighting the immense practical difficulties which Queensland now appears to be experiencing (in society; in economic competitiveness and strategy; in the political system; in the Public Service; and in public finance) none of which appeared to have gained serious attention from the major political parties in the lead up to the 2001 state election <26>.
In April 2001, the Minister for State Development responded to the above by acknowledging the Government's awareness of difficult economic challenges, and claiming that the Government had in place programs to deal with them. His claim took no account of the inadequate human and financial resources that appeared to be available to carry forward any such agenda <27>.
For information about further developments see Chronological Summary of Documents