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23 August 2005

Dr Bruce Flegg, MLA
Member for Moggill

Queensland's Opposition seems Equally Guilty

Thank you for your letter of 19 August in relation to a potential test case concerning the professional credibility of Queensland's Public Service. From your letter I note that you have:

  • taken an interest in the question of politicisation;
  • made earlier representations on my behalf - without gaining any significant response;
  • concluded that a change of government is the only way in which the problem can be resolved; and
  • supported the concept of merit in public service appointment in principle.

Unfortunately my experience does not lead me to share your confidence that a change in government would eliminate the problems that have resulted from politically-dominated staffing of the Public Service . For example, as outlined in an addendum below, the Opposition has:

  • allowed the Premier's Department to get away with refusing to discuss why it did not allow professional merit to be considered in relation to making a senior policy R&D appointment;
  • not indicated that it would actually change laws that have made it 'unnecessary' to consider merit;
  • expressed rhetoric about public service professionalism that seems no different to the Government's;
  • had an official policy under which merit was not really considered to be essential; and
  • not actually done anything significantly differently when the Borbidge Government was in power.

If you had agreed to the meeting that I suggested to discuss progress, or the lack of it, it had been my intention to propose that this matter be raised in Parliament.

Your recent letter correctly pointed out that considerable time has now elapsed (since 1992). However this is hardly my fault, as the matter has been continuously pursued. I submit that progress seems to have been stymied by bipartisan opposition to genuine independent professionalism in Queensland's Public Service.

However the fact that my dispute originated in the early 1990s under the Goss Government now makes it very relevant because:

  • problems in the state's health system have been said to be due to the actions of Queensland Health management which started around 1990 or 1993 (Thomas H., 'Evidence on website gives another view'Courier Mail, 20/8/05);
  • the widespread problems that beset the bureaucracy are now being publicly recognized (eg see Putting State's Bureaucracy Under Scrutiny). Moreover it was claimed earlier by a prospective historian that changes by the Goss Government are mainly responsible for the current state of public administration (see Walker J., 'Labor in power', Courier Mail, 21/11/04). This has long been my contention also.

As I have previously pointed out my case was described in the literature as a test of the Westminster tradition (see McDermott P., `Tenure of Senior Queensland Public Servants', Australian Journal of Public Administration, March 1993). Will it really be possible for any  future government to make credible claims about merit appointments to the Public Service until such an obvious test case is resolved?

Yours faithfully

John [not Ian] Craig


Addendum: Why the Opposition has a Credibility Gap

In the early 1990s, I was seriously damaged by an abuse of natural justice when the Premier's Department refused to allow professional merit to be considered in relation to making a senior policy R&D appointment.

Since then, despite innumerable representations through every conceivable channel to have this matter addressed:

  • a situation in which merit could be considered in relation to my situation has never been created;
  • all arms of government have simply refused to discuss the Premier's Department's action in refusing to allow professional merit to be considered. Moreover no appeal mechanism (nor the Opposition) has pressed them to do otherwise, despite evidence over the years of frequent failings in Queensland's Public Service;
  • the Ombudsman determined that legally there was no requirement to consider professional merit in making senior Public Service appointments. I have no hard evidence that the Opposition really intends to correct that situation, or to resolve resulting injustices;
  • members of the Government have claimed that Public Service appointments were actually being made on merit that were patently ridiculous under the circumstances (see Public Service Merit under the Beattie Government). However their claims were indistinguishable from the in-principle support for merit appointment professed in your recent letter;
  • the Opposition's public service policy was outlined to me in 1999 - and this implied that professional merit in appointments was not really considered necessary, on the grounds that elected representatives were ultimately responsible (see Deficiencies in Opposition's Approach to Senior Public Service Appointments);
  • your predecessor as my local MLA (also from the Liberal Party) made representations on my behalf to the highest level of government, but apparently gave up when he encountered political resistance. Giving up was unreasonable as the point at issue is the inability of the political system (unaided) to reliably judge professional merit (see More on the Anniversary);
  • until problems recently became apparent in Queensland Health, only one member of the Opposition had indicated to me that he believed professional merit was actually important in making Public Service appointments (see One MLA takes Public Service Merit Seriously).

On a change of government in 1996 nothing really changed in the Public Service - other than the political appointment of a different batch of Department heads.

In 1999 both the present Premier and a former Leader of the Opposition indicated support for Public Service politicisation (see Franklin M., 'Only four survive Beattie's reshuffle', Courier Mail, 17/4/99).