CPDS Home Contact Professionalism: Chronological Summary

20 December 1998

Hon Ms Wendy Edmond, MLA
Minister for Health.

Thank you for your reply of 16 December 1998 to my letter of 11 December 1998, about the need for competence in the senior Public Service. In your reply you noted that:

Rebuilding a Professional Career Public Service?

Unfortunately, the arrangements which exist in practice do not allow a competent professional career public service to emerge. Thus this Government's 'principles' are not worth the paper they are written on. There are two reasons for this.

Firstly, the Beattie Government (like its predecessors) has politicised the appointment of Chief Executives. This does not allow competence to dominate in the Public Service because:

A. policy implementation requires far deeper and broader knowledge and skills in the Public Service than the superficial approach accepted in public policy debate in Queensland. Thus merit in senior Public Service cannot be reliably identified politically.

Competence in senior public service is a 'real' thing. It includes:

Such capabilities require years to acquire, and can be identified by the fact that 'things work', and peers have respect for the persons concerned. They can not be politically conferred on opportunists by large pay rises, or by mouthing ideas which have become 'trendy', or by 'correct' procedural formalities.

The competence of public officials (and thus the performance of governments) has been eroding Australia wide, because it has become fashionable to replace senior officials on a change of government. However this problem is most severe in Queensland as the state has essentially no capable independent public policy institutions and few major firms where external CEO candidates might gain relevant knowledge and experience.

B. de-skilling is like pregnancy - one can not do it just a bit. De-skilling at the top de-skills the Public Service generally by making it impossible to appropriately lead, train or select other staff. How can 'merit to be rewarded, and careers advanced in a non-politicised environment' if those with real competence are a threat to their 'seniors'? Providing honest advise, or acquiring high level skills would limit staff careers - eg as occurred in my case in the early 1990s when obvious defects in 'reformers' proposals were pointed out.

Secondly, while there is a pressing need to rebuild a professional career service, this can not be achieved without also resolving the injustices associated with the destruction of that tradition through the Goss Government's 'reform' process. My particular case, which I have repeatedly drawn to the attention on MLAs, has hundreds (or thousands) of equivalents - where the individuals concerned have been less prepared, or less able, to speak up.

It is simply not possible to build anything decent on such a foundation of unresolved insult and injustice to Queensland's Public Service.

Yet, as you will be aware, the Premier's Department has not even been prepared to admit that my dispute with it is about its explicit refusal in 1992 to allow merit to be considered in a grievance about the process of senior staff selection (see Dr Glyn Davis's letter of 26 August 1998, with my letter of 1 September 1998).

A craven refusal to even face up to the 'skeletons in the Government's Public Service closet' is not a basis for rebuilding a 'professional career service'.

"The Wages of Sin"

The irony of the situation is that without competence in the senior Public Service, governments are eventually widely seen to fail in service delivery, and in management of the community's social and economic affairs. They thus lose power no matter what 'principles' they claim to hold.

The Beattie Government, seems likely to experience similar failures to the Goss Government, because it did not recognise that allowing inexperienced persons to control administration was the main source of that Government's problems (and that brutalizing the Public Service was merely the politically obvious aspect of that inexperience).

In particular, real progress in developing the State's economy is critical to reducing many social symptoms and economic risks. However this will not be achieved through a Public Service which has only the relatively light weight economic knowledge and skills which have dominated in this area since the Goss Government's 'reforms' eliminated most of the more serious skill base which was being established by the Public Service in the 1980s.

Going nowhere: achieving better economic results is now a challenge in 'learning faster' than competing economies. It is no longer primarily a 'more investment' challenge. However, as noted in my letter of 4 August 1998, an inexplicably high priority of the new Department of State Development on its formation was terminating my temporary employment, which at the time involved a project to establish a 'front end' on the Queensland Government's strategic planning processes - which project would probably have been a useful contribution to speeding relevant 'learning' (see my letter of 11 December 1998).

Light-weight knowledge and skills in most areas of the Public Service, and consequent political instability, are all that are likely to be available until there is a 'new deal' for Queensland's Public Service.

[Signed John Craig]