CPDS Home Contact Professionalism: Chronological Summary

24 July 2006

Mr. Martin Daubney S.C.,
Queensland Bar Association

Reform of judicial appointments

I should like to provide a little feedback in relation to a recent article in which you were quoted as expressing concern about the process of judicial appointments in Queensland.

My interpretation of an article in which you were quoted: Newly installed president of Queensland Bar Association, Martin Daubney, has reform of judicial appointment system as a top priority. Executive government controls this process without accountability and there is a need to ensure that the best candidates are selected for judicial offices (Merritt C., 'New boss to seek judicial reforms', Australian, 21/7/06).

I should like to wish your Association luck in its efforts to restore merit as the basis for judicial appointments, but must point out that experience of the political treatment of the state Public Service over the past 15 years or so strongly suggests that you are facing an uphill battle.

The Westminster tradition involved the principle that the 'best candidates' should get Public Service appointments (ie that these should be based on professional merit). However it is clear that, politically, this tradition is no longer considered relevant - see The Growing Case for a Professional Public Service . The latter includes (a) reference to a statement by the Ombudsman that legislative changes that were made years ago mean that professional merit does not really need to be considered in making 'senior' appointments and (b) indicators of a huge number of adverse practical consequences of giving preference to political cronies and 'yes men'.

Despite abundant evidence of resulting administrative dysfunctions and crises (of which systemic failures that have occurred in child protection, electricity network development, public hospitals and water supplies are only the most prominent examples), politicisation of the Public Service has apparently gained bipartisan political support. Moreover a formal submission to the Queensland Council of Professions in 2003 resulted in apparent agreement by members of the Council that there is a problem - but no one was willing to do anything about it.

Thus, while the Bar Association may have success in promoting the idea of appointing the 'best candidates' to judicial offices, I will not be holding my breath.

I would be interested in your reactions to my speculations.


John Craig
Centre for Policy and Development Systems

PS. This email was first sent to Mr Peter Lyons QC as president of the Bar Association, in what must rank as the most embarrassing misreading of an article in my long history of misreading articles.