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State may be Rudderless ... Full Stop - email sent 12/3/15

Sarah Elks,
The Australian

Re: State May be Rudderless for Months, The Australian , 10/3/15

Your article suggested that: “Annastacia Palaszczuk’s purge of Queensland’s top bureaucrats could see the state’s public service floundering without permanent directors-general for months“. It also pointed to: (a) the likelihood that several directors’ general will be replaced, and; (b) the new government’s efforts to ensure that appropriate processes are in place to ensure ‘merit based appointments to all Director-General roles’.

History does not suggest that such a process will only incapacitate government administration for a few months.

For the past 25 years Queensland’s public service has been subjected to repeated politically-driven attempt to ensure that governments gets ‘competent’ and ‘responsive’ support in addressing their policy agendas and that senior appointments are based on ‘merit’. However the results have been: (a) ongoing erosion of the public sector’s experience and intellectual capital; (b) inept, dysfunctional and soon-unpopular governments; and (c) large-scale wastage of public resources – see A Westminster-style Professional and Independent Public Service: Good Idea but Wishing Won't Make it So.

Governments deal with thousands more things than the political system is concerned with at any time. Top level politically-driven purges that take no account of the limits of political awareness result in the installation of ‘senior’ officials whose experience has probably not provided them with professional competence and understanding in some important-but-not-currently-politically-prioritized areas. This in turn makes it: (a) hard for government to maintain and mobilize those still-important knowledge and skills; and (b) very likely that dysfunctions and crises will emerge from unexpected / unrecognized directions. The only way to avoid this is to build on the public service’s existing reservoir of knowledge, skills and experience. Queensland’s current public service is anything but a professionally competent and independent body because of the repeated politically-driven top-down purges that it has been subjected to since the early 1990s. However more such purges will not create a better starting point for developing a professionally competent public service.

Continued naivety about what is required for government to be effective will simply ensure that Queensland continues to struggle for at least another 10 years.

John Craig

A Response from an anonymous observer - reproduced with permission

"Strongly agree with the tenor of your comments......however I think any more public service purges  will put us back longer than 10 years - maybe 20....... They just don’t get it!  The removal of seniority allows anything to happen now.   Integrity has been lost!    'Merit based' ...I   hardly think so!"