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'Is our System of Government in Queensland Working?'
On 30 April 2007 an ABC radio broadcast hosted by Steve Austin opened the question of the effectiveness of Queensland's system of government for public debate. An outline of that broadcast is reproduced below.
CPDS comments have been added, and these generally suggest that:
|Outline of ABC Broadcast on 'Is our System of Government in Queensland Working?'||
An outline of ABC broadcast on
Hosted by Steve Austin
Introduction: An Australian Study of Parliament Group event recently concluded that Queensland limits its potential through bad government. What do you think?
About Panel: Professional opinion will be provided by: Mark Lauchs (QUT); Alex Scott (Secretary of QPSU) and Kevin Martin (Chief of Staff to Leader of the Opposition). All gave addresses to the recent Australian Study of Parliament Group event.
Background: Various groups have been motivated by a desire to improve government in Queensland (eg Citizens for Democracy in the 1980s). There is a more recent history of problems in Queensland government. Professor Trevor Grigg argued that everyone knew water was going to be a problem - yet nothing was done. There was the question of the Heiner inquiry - where cabinet got rid of embarrassing documents. The Sommerville review of the electricity industry revealed problems. There was a commission of inquiry into health system which was eventually aborted. However it was revealed that the government had misled the public to protect itself. There is one thing Queensland does well - and this is to support rugby league.
Question to Panel: What is good about government in Queensland?
Question to Panel: Where are there problems?
Question to Panel: What are solutions?
CPDS Comments on 'Is Our System of Government in Queensland Working?'
The above broadcast identified the mixture of appalling ignorance and brilliant insight into Queensland's system of government that exists within the community. Also raised were useful professional insights into defects in the operation of:
Such analysis is long overdue.
In May 2007, the Premier defended Queensland's government system by suggesting that: accountability standards set by Fitzgerald inquiry still apply; weakness of the Opposition is due to its failure to reform itself; abuses of power under earlier governments would now be impossible; government actions are independently investigated; FOI was never meant to amount to more than it now does; and various other measure to improve accountability have been instituted .
However, in the present author's opinion, those claims are misleading (see Superficial Accountability).
The present author has sought to raise questions about the effectiveness of various aspects of Queensland's system of government for decades.
Those representations are the outcome of 25 years involvement in publicly-funded strategic policy R&D in Queensland central government agencies with a 'systems' focus (and subsequent private efforts). In simple terms a 'systems' emphasis implies concern with the (often complex) relationships between things and with enhancing the way problems are solved. This led (for example) to:
Queensland inherited a sophisticated (Westminster) system of government when it was established in 1859 by a colonial power.
However, because that system was externally imposed, there has never been much grass-roots understanding in the community of how it worked, why it took the form that it did or what perils it had been established to guard against.
Thus populist prescriptions for 'reforming' government systems (eg those based on Yes Minister) are more likely to make things worse than to result in improvement.
Why a Professional Public Service Matters
The core business of government is dealing with functions that are complex - eg creation of a legal framework and providing services where any particular activity links with many other functions.
Understanding such complexities in both principle and practice requires long study and experience, which is not required or developed within the community generally. Moreover Queensland's civil institutions (eg universities, research bodies, associations) have generally lacked any sophisticated, practical and up-to-date understanding of these complexities.
Thus the early 1990s shift to something like a 'US system' with large ministerial staffs and a politicised 'senior' Public Service resulted in a massive loss of the human and organizational capital that was critical to effective government. This involved loss, not only of the knowledge, skills and experience of staff, but of the knowledge of the 90% of public functions that are not current political priorities but are embodied in organizational structures and processes.
The present author's 1970's experience of public sector change had shown that real gains could be made by building on existing competencies - as this avoids damage to the tacit knowledge and experience represented by the Public Service - but suggestions in 1990 based on Queensland's experience were disregarded.
The Challenge of Complexity
Unfortunately one can't simply blame those who held sway under the Goss Government, because they acted 'rationally' in ignorance of the problem of 'complexity'. They had no suspicion that they couldn't achieve their noble goals unless they protected the human and institutional assets that embodied the knowledge about how those goals related to everything else. Public servants often found that staff in the premier's office would naively say 'its much simpler than that' when complications that were obvious to those with experience were mentioned.
One strength of Western societies has been the individual use of rationality - the assumption that simple / un-complex relationships can be used as the basis for abstract analysis which reaches valid conclusions.
Over-simplification of some issues is a consequence of 'rational' analysis and debate - and the limits to rationality are:
Over-simplification of the complexity of public functions is also a feature of the political system.
This was not critical so long as there was a professional Public Service which acted as the collective memory of society about social, economic, legal and administrative complexities - and could thus provide an automatic 'reality check' on simplistic political ideas. However in the absence of such a collective memory, the over-simplistic ideas of political populists (who might be mere political confidence tricksters) have arguably become a serious threat to the community (eg see On Populism in 2007).
The challenge of complexity has become even more critical because of the emergent power and regional influence of East Asian societies that adopt radically different (ie those based on intuitive / arational intelligence) approaches to problem solving, and to dealing with complex problems.
The broadcast outlined above identified real difficulties in Queensland's system of government.
More specific suggestions about some particular issues raised during that broadcast are presented in:
However it needs to be recognised that these are merely part of the problem that exists in now creating an effective system of governance. The present author's attempt to present a 'big picture' view of these challenges is outlined in Australia's Governance Crisis, while Restoring 'Faith in Politics' attempts to outline what might be required for a solution.
Moreover, there seems to be limited time to effect some serious improvement in Queensland's system of government because economic shocks are a real risk.
|Despair About Queensland Governments||
Despair About Queensland's Governments - email sent 12/1/17
Re: Queensland property industry ‘despairs of Palaszczuk government’, The Australian, 12/1/17
Your article drew attention to debates about the effectiveness of Queensland’s current government.
Similar criticism (ie that the Palaszczuk Government seemed ‘paralyzed’) had been reported by Geoff Chambers in Annastacia Palaszczuk slammed for ‘review, not do’ strategy, The Australian, 9/1/17.
In relation to such criticism, I should like to point to structural weaknesses in Queensland’s political system that arise from weaknesses in the civil institutions that need to provide competent and up-to-date inputs if the state’s politicians are to know what to do (see More Competent External Support to Parlament, 2006). Queensland suffers the ‘curse of natural resources’ (ie poor quality leadership in the development of community capabilities because of business and political dominance by those seeking relatively easy economic gains from exploiting natural assets such as land, minerals, energy and the environment).
Those ‘resource-curse’ weaknesses have been compounded by the politicisation of the public sector under successive governments over the past 25 years – see CPDS Comments on ABC Broadcast on 'is Our System of Government in Queensland Working?' (2007); The Emergence of Ineffectual Government (2009); and Appalling Queensland Governments (2016).
The latter also drew attention to the need for considerable caution in developing plans for future economic growth because of the risks associated with Australia’s dangerously high national debt levels and the current dependence of economic growth on rapidly increasing those debt levels. Many in the current list of major projects (see print version of Passmore D., ‘Futures looking Good’, Sunday Mail, 8/1/17) that the state government apparently now expects to drive Queensland’s growth would probably exacerbate those risks. The fact that the risk of a similar but even more serious debt crisis in China now seems to be reaching a tipping point compounds the problem because of: (a) Queensland’s economic / budgetary exposure to resource exports to China; and (b) the likely adverse effects on the now-economically-significant foreign (mainly Chinese) purchase of Australian apartments.
Finally, it is noted that the current ALP administration is not the first in Queensland to be seen to be: (a) not achieving much; and (b) initiating huge numbers reviews, inquiries and task forces because it did not know what to do (see notes in Curing Queensland’s Myopia, 2011). And the Beattie Government that committed to achieving a lot, even though it had no way to really know what to do, was eventually brought undone by ongoing crises (see Queensland’s Next Successful Premier, 2007).