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24 July 2001

Email To Members of the Legislative Assembly

Queensland needs more than illusions about good governance

On 15 March I wrote to congratulate you on your success in the state election and to highlight the very difficult challenges which Queensland now faces.

In relation to these difficulties (in: society generally; economic competitiveness and strategy; the political system; the Public Service; and public finance) I should like you to be aware of a recently published interview with a senior Queensland public servant.

In that interview it was reportedly implied that there are undemanding requirements for the senior Public Service (ie that career success can result from 'dumb luck'). Such flippancy was offensive to professional public servants, particularly because of the cynical (but demonstrably false) claims that senior Public Service appointments have been based on merit. (See a letter dated 14-7-01).

Moreover the management of major organizations was reportedly described in terms of creating an 'illusion of direction' - a significant assertion. Queensland's system of government is clearly in the difficulties that my March letter referred to largely because of its failure to develop directions / visions / programs that are firmly grounded in practical reality. Too often 'illusion' (the stock-in-trade of stage magicians) is all that has been achieved.

As you may be aware, the so-called 'Queensland effect' (based on the Goss Government's unexpected electoral loss in 1995) has now apparently entered the language - as something that politicians elsewhere fear. A second document (The Queensland Effect) is available. It suggests that the 'Queensland effect' is mainly due to the loss of a Public Service's ability to ensure that public policies produce real and practical results. It also points to growing evidence of the latter deficiency. As suggested in my email to you of 30/4/01, the 'Queensland effect' could well re-emerge in Queensland in the next year or two.

Unsolicited and unprompted anecdotes from several professional and experienced public servants who remain in our Public Service have recently suggested that (a) the standard of professionalism in the Service is now low (b) this problem is particularly severe at senior levels - and, as a result, agencies generally are not actually doing very much and that (c) appearances' [ie 'illusion'] are all that matters to departments.

I have no way to personally confirm these anecdotes, but I fear that they are likely to be well founded. The latter point, (c), is what you would expect in a 'political' Public Service.


John Craig

Response from Premier's Office


Dear Mr Craig

Thank you for your e:mail of 24 July 2001 relating to governance in the Queensland Public Sector. I have been requested to reply to you on the Premier's behalf.

I note the issues you have raised in your letter and through the Centre for Policy and Development System website and I have referred this information to the Public Service Commissioner.

I can assure you that the ongoing development of Queensland's Public Service is a key commitment of this Government, a core function of the Office of Public Service Merit and Equity and the key focus of a newly established Chief Executive Officer Governance Committee.

This Government has every confidence in the capacity of the Public Service to deliver effective and efficient Government services to Queenslanders.

As you may be aware, there are legislative provisions relating to employment in the Queensland Public Service as outlined in the Public Service Act 1996

This Act reinforces the merit principle by stating that public service employment be directed towards basing selection decisions on merit.

The Queensland Government is committed to the application of public service employment practices that are not only based on merit, but are fair, reasonable and provide equal employment opportunities to all.

Should you have any queries regarding my advice to you, Ms Rachel Hunter, Public Service Commissioner, Office of Public Service Merit and Equity, telephone (07) 3224 2415 or e:mail, will be pleased to assist.

Yours sincerely

Rob Whiddon
Chief of Staff

Reply to Premier's Office


Dear Mr Widdon,

Merit in Public Service Appointments

Thank you for your email of 10 August in relation to mine of 24 July.

Your email drew attention to various matters including: (a) the Government's commitment to Public Service Development - especially through the role of the Office of Public Service Merit and Equity (b) the Government's confidence in the Public Service (c) legislation requiring merit principles in appointments (d) the Government's commitment to fairness as well as merit and (e) the ability of the Public Service Commissioner to answer queries about your advice.

Your note is a more detailed statement of a basic ambition the Premier expressed in a letter dated 8 September 2000 (ie that his Government wants merit to determine Public Service appointments). Unfortunately, at present, this worthy ambition seems likely to remain unfulfilled, for reasons outlined in my reply to the Premier of 12 September 2000 - which I now re-state.

FIRSTLY, our Public Service is currently built on a foundation of ineptitude and injustice, as a result of events in the 1990s (eg see Toward Good Government in Queensland, and Autocratic Ignorance Purges the Public Service which records the emergence of seriously defective administrative machinery - that: contributed to electoral disillusion with the Goss Government in 1995; was ineffectually tinkered with by the Borbidge Government; and was then reinstated in a more populist style on the election of the Beattie Government in 1998).

The professional capabilities of the Public Service can not now increase quickly if the senior-level knowledge and skills required as a starting point are simply not available. And, because merit was not really a required consideration in past appointments, the Service must continue to lack professional credibility. Moreover those who grasped senior positions on the basis of political connections and at the expense of manifest injustice to others can never gain the respect which is vital for the work of government to succeed.

These problems require fundamental renewal of the Public Service. They cannot be overcome by magic (eg by a legislative 'wish' for Public Service merit), or by setting up a 'CEO Governance Committee'.

SECONDLY, the Premier and a past Leader of the Opposition are on the record as endorsing the necessity for politicisation of CEO appointments (see Franklin M. 'Only four survive Beattie reshuffle', Courier Mail, 17/4/99). This damages the professional competence and credibility of the entire Public Service because of the influence which CEOs have on more junior appointments.

Where political considerations dominate in making appointments, all that government can ever get is a pretence about merit. I have personal experience of such a pretence which arose because the politically favoured persons permitted to control the process of making an appointment had no real idea what relevant technical merit was, but were immensely threatened when this question was raised and grossly abused the power of their positions to conceal their ignorance. Informed observers tell me that similar bullying of professionals is constantly recurring today - despite the present Government's 'ambition' about merit.

THIRDLY, no one seems to believe the Government's claim. Published evidence is growing of public concern about the impact of politicisation on Public Service competence (in both Queensland and elsewhere) - see The Growing Case for a Professional Public Service. And numerous anecdotes are starting to emerge that suggest a similar concern by leading professionals and professional bodies.

FINALLY, Queenslanders are continuing to be subject to uncorrected social and economic difficulties and ineffectual programs, as recorded on my web-site. This is where the practical outcome of the Government's 'ambition' about Public Service merit is being revealed for all to see.

I note your encouraging comments about the Government's commitment not only to merit but to fairness in Public Service appointments. Accordingly I will, as you suggest, contact the Public Service Commissioner concerning the latter issue.


John Craig