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18 February 2004
Ms Madonna King,
c/- Courier Mail
Accountability of Queensland's senior public servants
Your article 'Scrutiny lacking at the top' (Courier Mail, 17/2/04) highlighted questions about how the competence of Queensland's top public servants is ensured and assessed.
My interpretation: Queensland's directors-general have more than 100,000 staff, receive lucrative pay, form a second cabinet, have immense power, and receive bonuses which are undisclosed. Unlike the private sector where scalps of CEOs are demanded when things go awry, this does not happen to DGs. The DG of Families Department, when CMC handed down a damning indictment of policy / procedures / attitudes, will now head Department of Housing. Current head of Education Department was previously head of Families - and so must also take some responsibility. What genuine assessment was made of their performances? Public sector heads hide behind elected officials. Who was responsible for blow-out in cost of Goodwill Bridge? Who advised government to plough millions into AMC? Accountability of such individuals (and employment contracts offered to public servants) should be debated. The issue is not remuneration, but transparency and accountability. An independent public review by Auditor General should be held of performance at the end of each contract.
There are strong grounds for the concerns you have expressed - as indicated
in The Growing Case for a
Professional Public Service on my website. I drew this case to your
attention in response to an earlier article ('Another deficit: that Smarts',
Courier Mail, 3/6/03), but the case has continued growing.
Your article suggests the need for transparency and public accountability to overcome these concerns.
However I should like to submit for your consideration that senior public servants (including directors-general) need to be subject to 'professional' accountability, rather than to 'public' (ie inexpert) accountability. This is because:
These factors are the basis of the Westminster tradition which Queensland inherited from Britain. It involved a permanent and politically independent Public Service to which appointments were based on professional assessment of competence. However:
This problem has been repeatedly drawn to the attention of Queensland's
political establishment for more than a decade - without attracting any serious
response (eg see Towards a Professional Public Service
for Queensland). Moreover a case was presented to the Queensland
Council of Professions in September 2001. That Council seemed to agree that
there is a problem, but did nothing about it. My most recent representation
takes the form of a letter of 8/2/04 to the
Premier about the need for government in Queensland to swap populism for
'realism'. It is a suggestion with which your article implies that you would