CPDS Home Contact Professionalism: Chronological Summary
Email +

29 September 2006

Members of the Legislative Assembly

Queensland's Challenge: A 2006 Report Card ..... for Your Consideration

In early 2001, following a state election, an evaluation of strategic issues facing government, Queensland's Challenge, was submitted to all Members of the Legislative Assembly.

This email includes brief comments on that assessment and on 'progress' over the past few years (see below).


John Craig

2006 Report Card

Queensland's Challenge: A 2006 Report Card

Queensland's Challenge in 2001 focused on:

  • severe social stresses - eg high levels of unemployment, poverty, violence, dubious ethics, sexual assault, crime, fear and drug use;
  • the political instability associated with One Nation that appeared to have arisen, especially in marginal rural, coastal and metropolitan regions, from the social stresses that resulted from poor, un-supportive management of pressures for economic change in the 1990s;
  • attempts to diversify the economy (eg under 'Smart State') which could achieve little but buy the support of elite interest groups and consume public money;
  • significant economic changes that would now be required, due to the challenges that resource-based industries face from environmental constraints and from global restructuring / competitors;
  • a requirement for fundamental overhaul of government administration itself because:
    • Parliament had often behaved with juvenile abandon, partly because there has been little policy 'raw material' to work with;
    • the 'rorting' culture identified in the ALP's AWU faction in relation to filling key political positions had also damaged the Public Service;
    • for this reason, and others, the Public Service had lacked professional credibility and administration had been degenerating into a shambles;
    • prospective financial difficulties had been emerging. Queensland had not been ‘burning cash’ as fast as some ‘dot.coms’, but it had been ‘burning cash’. Both the state budget and the ‘commercial’ model for government business enterprises seemed to be likely to become financially exposed;
  • the lack of attention to any of the difficult challenges in the policies of major political groups.

Now in late 2006 it appears that:

  • progress has been made in reducing unemployment presumably because of:
    • an unprecedented period of uninterrupted global economic expansion, combined with constrained inflation;
    • rapid growth in East and South Asia which ignited a boom in demand for minerals and energy that reversed the poor future outlook which the state's then-unprofitable resource industries had had in the 1990s;
    • further improvements in the sophistication of Queensland business - a trend that has been apparent for decades and seems at least partly due to substantial interstate migration; and
    • increased public spending;
  • many social stresses have been swept under the carpet, and largely remain unresolved. For example:
    • growth in demand for social support services has been seen as overwhelming current systems (see Is the Smart State a Just State: A Commentary);
    • the general framework of Queensland's social services has been described as inadequate [1];
    • efforts to rectify a crisis in child protection services encountered an ever escalating growth in the magnitude of the problem [1, 2, 3];
    • numerous problems are emerging from worsening interpersonal relationships. For example, it has recently been reported that: 10% of men and 20% of women have been stalked [1]; and 20% of Queenslanders have had to move house because of neighborhood frictions [1]. Governments efforts to deal with the social consequences of the failure of individual consciences to ensure moral interpersonal relationships are potentially placing individual liberty (and its critically important political and economic benefits) at risk (see Moral Foundations of Individual Liberty);
    • claims have been made (and contested) that poverty has become a serious problem nationwide - perhaps even involving the emergence of a self-perpetuating under-class (see Notes on Minimizing Poverty). At the very least it seems that the budget cost of welfare payments to ensure reasonable levels of social equity has increased significantly;
  • the rhetoric of the Smart State program remains as economically relevant as it has been since it first gained bipartisan endorsement in the mid 1980s, while the practical substance of specific initiatives remain ineffectual - eg they continue to be directed towards increasing 'smart' inputs (education and research) to an economic system that is poorly positioned to use them productively (see Commentary on Smart State). The potential to strengthen Queensland's economic productivity remains unfulfilled (see Defects in Economic Tactics, Strategy and Outcomes);
  • difficult economic adjustment remain a likely future requirement because of, for example:
    • presumably unavoidable global economic and financial instabilities;
    • the boom-bust character of commodity industries, and the poor productivity in the face of low-wage competition of all primarily capital intensive industries;
    • challenges from rapidly growing low-wage competition in medium technology manufacturing from East Asia and in service industries from South Asia;
    • the role that globalization of operations has acquired in lifting business productivity;
  • the shambles in Queensland's public service delivery has already resulted in, or contributed to, obvious crises in child protection, electricity distribution, hospitals and water supplies. Moreover:
  • the quantity and quality of public inputs to the political process continue to increase. For example: forums for serious and informed policy debate now exist (such as the Brisbane Institute and Online Opinion); civil institutions have undertaken more systematic work (eg Australian Property Council, Australian Medical Association, Commerce Queensland, Queensland Council of Social Services, Royal Automobile Club of Queensland, and various other university and private groups); individual firms have sponsored research in areas related to their primary functions; and the media (eg The Courier Mail) has at times taken a useful role in promoting debate. However:
  • Queensland's budgetary position is enigmatic. The preferred 'solution' to problems in recent years seems typically to have been to throw money at them - while being forced to rely on ineffectual government machinery in doing so. Rapid increases in spending and revenues have occurred in recent years. While an operating surplus appears to be maintained and the net asset position is deteriorating only slowly, those outcomes seems anomalous in the face of the 'drunken sailor' approach to spending that has prevailed. Underlying Pressures for Increased State Taxation suggests that in assessing the budgetary position attention should be paid, for example, to:
    • cost blow-outs;
    • interstate pressure to eliminate the subsidy which Queensland receives through the Grants Commission's 'horizontal equalization' determinations as compensation for the continued low productivity of its economy;
    • 'creative' capital accounting which has been apparently been used (at least at times in the past) to give the impression of a sound operating position; and
    • the dependence of recent revenues on presumably-unsustainable economic booms;
  • the corporatisation model which has been applied to Queensland's government-owned enterprises remains a 'sleeper' issue, and a likely cause of future financial losses when / if those entities encounter a truly competitive environment while remaining subject to political direction.

In summary it is clear that (a) Queensland is limiting its potential through bad government - as it has done at many times in its history and (b) that the community is belatedly becoming disillusioned with a political system that is pretentious, self-serving, knowingly-unjust and ineffectual. Typical views recently expressed in the media concerning Queensland's political system suggested that:

  • Voters will give their votes grudgingly, as electors believe that both sides deserve to lose [1];
  • Voters are disappointed with all sides of politics [1];
  • the ALP gained a fourth term in Queensland from voters under duress. Had there been even the semblance of an opposition they would have been thrown out [1];
  • Queensland's politics is a mystery. It is universally agreed that the state government is a dud, yet the ALP continues to win landslide victories [1];
  • Queensland is regarded as a one party state because there is no alternative to Labor [1];
  • Business is concerned about lack of achievements under the Beattie government [1];
  • ALP government has been returned despite a crisis-prone third term, but business has warned of that there is a lot that now needs to be done [1].