CPDS Home Contact Professionalism: Chronological Summary

16 August 2006

Dr Bruce Flegg, MLA
Member for Moggill

Better Leadership of Queensland is Impossible without Administrative Renewal

I should like to provide a little feedback in relation to your reported comments about leading Queensland.

My interpretation of an article in which you were quoted: New state Liberal leader, Bruce Flegg, says that he is ready to be premier. Experience as a doctor and successful businessman is viewed as a good preparation for leadership. Brisbane’s Lord Mayor Campbell Newman is seen as a role model. Newman has life experience, and can see problems and articulate solutions. In his maiden speech Dr Flegg said that leadership is about vision - vision to act now before it is too late. (Passmore D., ‘I’m ready to lead state, says Flegg’, Sunday Mail, 13/8/06).

While I have zero political skills (and the ability to gain public support is obviously vital for success as premier), I would caution that governments in Queensland have traditionally been poor partly because so few people in the state have experience of leading very large organizations (eg those with 50-100 thousand staff) with responsibility for hundreds of different functions. The attitudes and skills that are appropriate for leadership in small and medium sized enterprises are not enough for effective government. The key difference that increasing organizational size and complexity makes is that leaders need to rely more on others to get things done. Those who rely on their own ability to identify problems and solutions are bound to fail. Thus it becomes critical to create conditions under which many capable people can take independent initiatives, in the way that the Westminster tradition of a professional Public Service used to do.

The current Queensland Premier is forced to rush from crisis to crisis as a result of dysfunctional government machinery. That problem is the direct result of the highly politicized and centralized arrangements that now exist because of the inexperience and incompetence of those who advised the Goss Government when current machinery was created - though this was only the latest stage in a history of defective government machinery (eg see High & Dry: Paying the Price of Ineffectual Public Administration). The excessive centralization of current machinery of government can be illustrated by the fact that infrastructure questions are now top-management responsibility (eg see Middle Management from the Top). This creates a bottleneck which ensures that other critical questions that the government has to address competently will be neglected (because top management can't do everything), so unexpected new crises must continue to arise regularly.

The 'can do' approach to major projects by Brisbane City Council's current leadership, and apparently limited attention to administrative effectiveness generally, risks similar crises by creating bottlenecks which prevent the full diversity of Council responsibilities being dealt with competently. This seems to be compounded in the Brisbane City Council, even more than in state government, by the privatisation of some unavoidably 'public' functions which are likely to generate serious conflicts of interest in future.

I submit for your consideration that while the development of vision certainly is the business of political leaders, the deplorable performance of governments in Queensland will not improve until there is a serious effort to create machinery through which that vision (and everything else government needs to deal with simultaneously) can be competently implemented. One possible way to address this is suggested in Improving Public Sector Performance in Queensland.


John Craig