CPDS Home Contact Professionalism: Chronological Summary

11 December 1998

To Members of the Legislative Assembly

Planning for the Future - The Need for Competent Senior Administrators

In a previous letter of 28 September 1998, I summarized the significance of representations about the need for competence (rather than political opportunism) in the senior Public Service. I should now like to add the need for government to provide a sense of direction for the community as a further justification for basing senior appointments on merit.

A recent Courier Mail editorial makes a claim that there is now a lack of direction in Queensland's Government (and in the ALP elsewhere):

"Introducing his own history of the 1972-75 Labor Government, Gough Whitlam remarks that 'in many cases the development of policy was more difficult than its implementation'. These days the Australian Labor Party apparently believes forming policy is too difficult to attempt, whether it is at a state or national level .... federal leader, Kim Beasley, dismissed calls for a radical overhaul of Labor policy as a new 'version of cultural cringe'. This would not be a cause for concern if Labor actually embraced progressive ideas, but it does not. In fact these days it is easier to say what 'modern' Labor is against than what it is the party supports. The last federal election was almost entirely negative on Labor's part, while the newly formed Beattie Government in Queensland has been busier undoing the reforms of the Coalition Government than carving its own place in history or trying to get unemployment down to its 5 percent target. Anyone looking for a way ahead for the Queensland ALP would not have found it at the party's state conference in Maryborough at the weekend .....After the severe haemorrhaging of traditional Labor voters at the 1995 state election and the federal poll a year later, the ALP needed to reconnect with its own constituency. But Labor will not hold voter sentiment if that is all it does. It needs to embrace the modern world, understand it and develop policies that fit. ...(but).. the Labor Party wallows in rear-vision policy and politics. There is no plan for the future, only makeshift re-invention of the failed practices of the past ..." (Courier Mail, 24/11/98)

This claim (while apparently correct) grossly understates the extent of the problem, which does not appear to be confined to the ALP; or to politics; or to government.

Considering Queensland's overall situation in developing policies and plans to prosper in a rapidly changing global and local environment, we find:

In order to do what the Courier Mail suggests ie 'embrace the modern world, understand it and develop policies that fit', a systematic effort is needed by numerous organizations to acquire and analyse more relevant information. For example, in a world of rapid change, developing the capabilities required for a future environment, through strategy, is vital to building competitiveness and productivity - and thus vital to sustainable job creation.

In relation to this, I enclose a copy of the executive summary of Initiating the Preparing for the Future Project. This contains an Interdepartmental Committee's assessment of Queensland's administration's limited ability in obtaining or using strategically important information. It also suggested how this might be addressed. In effect that Committee argued that strategies prepared in Queensland have often not been able to be 'strategic' - because they have not been based on any well developed ability to anticipate what the future environment could be like. The Committee's work 'fell through the cracks' with the 1998 change in government.

In overcoming such difficulties, a competent senior public service - with relevant knowledge and experience - is vital. Political opportunists and paper shuffling 'yes men' (though they may be very skilled at flattering political egos) will not be able to provide Governments with the support needed for the latter to give a constructive sense of direction to the community.

Early in 1998, the Department of State Development made a decision (in effect) not to give priority to more systematic efforts by the Queensland Government to Prepare for the Future (the project I was coordinating when my temporary employment with the Office of the Coordinator General was terminated). As noted in my letters of 4th and 25th August 1998, this either represented a continuation of a politically driven abuse of natural justice by the Premier's Department which I suffered in 1992, or an incredibly poor sense of priorities.

[Signed John Craig]


A Costly Precedent?

Press reports indicate that a court has now decided that compensation should be payable to Ms Jackie Byrne for 'not being allowed to prove her ability to do the job', when her employment as head of the Family Services Department was terminated in 1996 under the Borbidge Government (Coffey J., 'Bureaucrats strike back', Sunday Mail, 29/11/98).

This sound like an expensive precedent for the Queensland Government, as hundred's (perhaps thousands) of individuals received similar treatment under the Goss Government's 'reforms' in the early 1990s.

The (so called) 'Gulag' group are the most obvious ex-public servants to whom this precedent will presumably directly apply - as being relocated to an unsuitable premises, and given no meaningful work to do was not conducive to 'proving their ability to do their jobs'.

However, a more subtle form of 'bastardry' was applied to many others - which had exactly the same effect. For example, in my case, being prevented from 'proving an ability to do my job' included (as outlined in my letter of 4 August 1998):

This was more subtle because it operated behind a facade of 'correct procedure' (ie it was accompanied by making up procedural rules which allowed natural justice to be abused - eg by preventing merit appeals against SES appointments). However, even though the abuse was more subtle in my case, it has far more serious implications for Members of the Legislative Assembly. This is because the Premier's Department's refusal to allow merit to be considered now makes it impossible for Queensland's senior public service to be seen to be credible, or to make a reliable contribution to the business of government.

However, my case was not by any means the only abuse which occurred, and it now seems appropriate to use the precedent established by the judgement reportedly made in Ms Jackie Byrne's case to review the hundreds (thousands?) of cases where individuals were prevented from demonstrating their ability to do their jobs under the Goss administration.