CPDS Home Contact Professionalism: Chronological Summary

4 August 1998

To Members of the Legislative Assembly

The competence, experience and independence of the Public Service is again being threatened, despite public statements to the contrary by the present Government.

Outrageous treatment that I, and others, received in the early 1990s has continued in my case in 1998. I am a public servant with over 25 years experience in leading edge policy development. I was retrenched in 1992 by a process which abused natural justice, then re-employed in 1996 on a temporary basis. As a direct result of summarily ending this, I am now forced to resume a dispute with the Premier's Department about my treatment in 1992. Ability and common decency still count for nothing, if they are politically embarrassing.

The Price of a Purely 'Compliant' Public Service: I wrote to all MLAs between 1993 and 1995 about the erosion of the Public Service's knowledge and skills by poorly conceived restructuring and re-staffing of Government agencies (as in Attachment A).

In particular, a pool of high level economic development skills was destroyed after 1989 - due to the hostility of politically motivated 'reformers', aided by the 'gutlessness' of the passively compliant in the Public Service. This led to my 1992 dispute. It was of significance to the state generally, because it slowed progress in developing the economic capabilities needed for secure, quality employment, which in turn contributed to hardships for many citizens - and ultimately intensified the recent support for One Nation.

The possibility of better economic progress was precisely the issue about which my ability to obtain a hearing was suppressed from 1991 to 1995. For example, despite my useful advances by understanding development as a 'systemic' issue, the Premier's Department prevented merit being considered in a 1992 grievance about senior staff selection - for a policy innovation and development position in its then Economic Development Division.

Other Governments also reduced the Public Service's ability to provide the independent support needed for a balanced approach. And with politicisation, economic progress was slowed under successive Governments by a stream of 'beginners' who were appointed to experiment with simplistic theories. A high level skill base has still not been re-created.

Security and Stability is Under Threat: Queenslanders want more security. And the independent Member for Nicklin, Mr Peter Wellington, has said that he will support a Beattie Government in Parliament because stable government is needed.

However, an economic and administrative mess could now descend, just when the Asian financial crisis demands maximum competence, because (See Attachment A):

The present Government faces difficult challenges, requiring balanced advice, and the use of the Public Service's best knowledge and experience related to economic development.

Crippling the Public Service - Again? By 1995, the then Government appeared to have realized that 'bullying' the Public Service had not improved its performance.

'There will be no more forced redundancies in the Queensland Public Service. And the days of Public Sector Management Commission 'policing and bullying' the public service are over .... that was in the past and had been completed ....' (Koch T., 'No more bullying of Queensland Public Service', Courier Mail, 29/7/95, referring to a discussion with the then PSMC Chairman, Dr Brian Head).

However such practices can only be seen to be 'in the past and completed', when the victims of such 'bullying' gain just treatment.

The Premier, Mr Beattie, recently promised a 'new deal' for the Public Service:

.... "When Labor was in office last time there was a restructuring and all sorts of things that upset a large number of Public Servants. It will not happen this time" (Mr Beattie's address to a mass gathering of staff, reported in Inside Premiers, 1/7/98)

Meanwhile, ending my temporary A08 position, without discussion or explanation, appeared to become a high priority for the new Department of State Development - even though: I had been through a selection process for the position in 1997; future plans for the Department were not final; not all with temporary positions were treated the same; the projects I was working on remained relevant; and my work was seen to be of high quality by knowledgeable observers, eg, my independent analysis of the Asian Financial Crisis was said to contain 'quite a brilliant piece of work' by a prominent commentator.

My request to Steve Chapman, then Acting Director General, Department of State Development, to provide reasons for his decision gained no reply. His successor, Mr Ross Rolfe, also failed to respond.

My CV is enclosed for your reference, together with a letter (dated 10/7/98) outlining my unresolved dispute with the Department of Premier and Cabinet which I have now been forced to resume. Dr Glyn Davis acknowledged my letter of 10/7/98, but did not meaningfully address the issues involved. A request (11/7/98) to the Premier, Mr Beattie, to direct his Department to resolve that dispute was never acknowledged.

This reveals a renewed threat to the competence and independence of the Public Service, and suggests that simplistic ideas about development will prevail, and frustrate progress.

Request: Accordingly, I respectfully request that you ask the Department of the Premier and Cabinet to take action to resolve the dispute outlined in my letter of 10/7/98. Also could you also please treat my particular case as a private matter of natural justice.

[Signed John Craig]

Attachment A: the Risk of an economic and administrative mess

The Past

Assessing the Implications of Pauline Hanson's One Nation notes that 23% of the electorate were so dissatisfied with their economic predicament, and with being ignored by the 'elites' who make decisions, that they supported One Nation [in 1998].

In an economic sense, such protests are justified. The difficulty of the economic challenge has been under-estimated; there is little access to information about what is needed for a developed modern economy; and weak methods have been used to correct the situation.

Those weak methods were partly due to more than a decade of politically appointing 'beginners' who did not realize how simplistic their economic development theories were.

On four occasions, 'beginners' produced an economic strategy in secret after consultation - rather than allowing the community to participate in an enterprising way. The strategy thus failed to create the capabilities required for prosperity. And new 'beginners', who had been given no real chance to understand the problem, constantly emerged asking political leaders to give them a go.

The 'beginners' were also allowed to dictate to (and, at times, to purge) a Public Service which concealed deeper knowledge and experience amongst those who did not play political games. Such purges prevented any 'reality check' on simplistic policy theories.

'In Australian political life until the recent Queensland election, there was a virtual lockout of economic dissidents from reasoned public debate' (Fitzgerald R., 'Jobs the key to turning One Nation tide', Courier Mail, 16/7/98)

From 1993 to 1995 I wrote several times to Members of the Legislative Assembly pointing out the resulting decline in Public Service skills.

I also pointed out the consequences for the community in terms of:

Politically installing 'beginners' to administer government was not, however, confined to economic development - nor was it confined to the Goss Government. However, by 1995, the Public Service was very 'sick'. How this happened was outlined in my submission to the 1995 Labor Election Review Panel, Towards Good Government in Queensland. The problem was not 'bullying' of the Public Service to accept essential reforms. 'Bullying' was merely one symptom of the inexperience of those allowed to control 'reform'. General decline in the performance of government functions was another.

Queensland's Future is increasingly at risk for three reasons:

Firstly, various structural defects could make public administration erratic (ie political appointment of inexperienced officials; and a weak Senior Executive Service).

Some have assumed that Queensland could shift to something like the US system where senior administrators are appointed because of their support for the government of the day. Two 1996 letters to Business Queensland and to The Australian outline why even 'minor' fiddling (eg politicizing chief executives) can erode competence.

The problem is that political discussion of policy is always simplified - and requires support from persons with detailed knowledge and experience to give it substance. To safely adopt the US system of politicised senior administrators, Queensland would also need (say) the sophisticated policy analysis institutions and major businesses in which potential senior administrators gain knowledge and experience in the USA; and the USA's tradition of appointing 'Cabinet Ministers' for their expertise, rather than on the basis of election.

If senior administrators are selected politically in Queensland, they tend to be convincing 'supporters' who may also only know the rhetoric about policy, not its substance. Trying to implement simplistic theories without any 'reality check' is a formula for disaster.

Also inexperienced political appointees seem threatened most of all by public servants who support a Government's goals, but advocate a practical approach to achieving them. Only 'mates', and the passively compliant find their jobs secure.

The current Senior Executive Service (SES) was created under such circumstances between 1990 and 1995. Though they are usually 'nice' people who try hard within their limitations, too few in the SES have: solid practical realism; high levels of knowledge and skills; and community / subordinate respect for their competence. Such qualities require relevant knowledge and experience (gained over 15-20 years). Thus the SES can not can not, yet, provide a 'reality check' for inexperienced politically appointed senior officials. And continued political selection of senior officials has meant that skills for real development of the economy have never been re-created to match those existing in 1989.

In this environment, theoretically correct policy procedures will contribute to 'constipated' administration; and if any initiatives are taken, the results will tend to be erratic.

Secondly, economic change is now resisted, due to justified public disillusion with past change. Queensland's economic challenges are immense, yet little was achieved in creating the capabilities needed for real prosperity. This failure contributed to:

Some now advocate reverting to the methods of past eras, on the assumption that the results could not be worse. However, the problem did not lie in the goals of economic change, but in the weak methods used, due to giving 'beginners' control of administration.

The best option now is to allow those with as much competence and experience as Queensland can muster to administer modern economic goals.

Thirdly, there is little ability to use the information available to Queenslanders about what is needed to improve their economic performance.

Due to rapid change, relevant knowledge is replacing investment as the main factor in adding value. Thus economic security requires being 'ahead of the game'. However Queensland is not yet organized to prosper in this new world. For example:

This problem is due to factors such as: Queensland's small business, branch office economy, which lacks high level skills; the absence of applied research organizations to extract the local significance from the deluge of information about international trends and practices; and the effect of political appointments on the Public Service.

Furthermore, in seeking policy directions which could ensure Queensland's future security and prosperity, consultation with the community is usually emphasised. But consulting a community that does not have access to practical research bodies to help them understand what the future environment might be like, and what their realistic options are, is not likely to reveal what is needed to succeed in that environment.

These constraints must be overcome as prosperity (and the ability to develop viable economic opportunities) increasingly depend on knowledge. It is not good enough now to rely on the familiar policies of a bye-gone era, or to just learn about the past from text books or about the present from day-to-day administration of government.

These risks worsen the potential hazards for the community from the Asian financial crisis. The economy seems likely to be badly affected by the crisis whose effects in some important markets are likely to be deep and long lasting (see Asian Financial Crisis: Identifying Major Uncertainties and Opportunities).

It is very hard for Australia to avoid a slowdown to match downturns in its trading partners, because the current account deficit is increased if Australia's growth is faster than that in those trading partners. A slowdown now will probably translate into substantial job losses. Also, the current account deficit blow-out and a fall in the corporate profitability required to attract capital inflow, raise the risk of an 'Australian financial crisis'.

To create secure jobs in this environment requires more than increased public spending. The latter could make the current account deficit more hazardous. To avoid the need for a slowdown, that deficit could be reduced, by increasing the economy's expenditure on activities which make a large contribution to income. This would require becoming more productive (eg by emphasizing firms' ability to create competitive advantages - see Assessing the Implications of Pauline Hanson's One Nation, Section 4).

Overall Queensland could now face an economic and administrative mess.