CPDS Home Contact Professionalism: Chronological Summary

17 December 2006

Mr Dennis Shanahan and
Mr Matthew Franklin
c/- The Australian

'Dr Death': the bean-counter

I noted your recent article suggesting that Kevin Rudd gained his 'Dr Death' reputation with public servants because of tight budgetary control under Queensland's Goss Government.

My interpretation of your article: Taking a cold shower was new Labor premier Goss's advice for supporters after ending 32 years of National Party Government in Queensland. New federal Labor leader, Kevin Rudd is now repeating this mantra. Party insiders see Goss's approach in 1988 and 1989 as the key to winning federal election. Both are social conservatives, bookish and have strategic acumen. Goss took a 'don't scare the horses' approach. The National Party regime had been weakened by the Fitzgerald inquiry. To win Goss had to pursue basic issues, not trendy concerns of the Left - and Rudd sees things the same way, eg that establishing economic credibility is critical. Rudd, like Goss, faces a conservative regime that had wedged Labor on left-wing issues. Howard now can best win by making it seem that Rudd is too risky. In Goss's case this meant pursuing economic development, job creation and education and resisting social reforms. Rudd's biggest threat is now seen to be the Labor Party. Rudd was head of Goss's cabinet office from 1991 to 1995 and was called Dr Death by public servants for his tight control of budgets - so will have no trouble offering fiscally conservative policies. Ex National Party premier Cooper argues that Rudd is following Goss's model - which failed when government was won because services could not be delivered properly. Ex ALP minister Wells believes that much of Goss rubbed off on Rudd - as both are highly motivated to do something about the social disadvantage they see. Paul Williams (Griffith University) believes that Goss era experience means Rudd will identify a small number of credible, costed policies to campaign on. It will all be about things that appeal to middle Australia (Franklin M. and Shanahan D., 'Rudd follows mentor's mantra', Weekend Australian, 16-17/12/06)

It will be interesting to see what those public servants who actually made up Rudd's 'Dr Death' nickname now have to say about your 'bean-counter' hypothesis.

The experience of the professional Public Service (up close and personal) with the Goss regime was that it was brutal and unjust (eg see The Growth of Public Service Bullying). One result was the creation of machinery of government for Queensland that was so highly politicized and centralized that it was, and remains, virtually unworkable (see Queensland's Worst Government?), as revealed by ongoing dysfunctions and crises (see Queensland's Challenge: A 2006 Report Card).

I personally have avoided trying to identify individuals to 'blame' for what went wrong, but have rather ascribed the problem to:

While it may be (as your article suggested) that it was only through tight budgetary control that Kevin Rudd alienated public servants and thus gained his 'Dr Death' label, this may well not be all that was involved given that (reportedly):

Clearly those who took closer note of the individuals responsible for abuses of power by the Goss regime will have the opportunity in 2007 to reveal what they know.

Other observers later suggested that Mr Rudd had gained his 'Dr Death' title for:


John Craig