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28 April 1999
To Hon Mr Peter Beattie, MLA,
Premier of Queensland, and
Hon Mr Rob Borbidge, MLA,
Leader of the Opposition.
Politicisation Lowers Public Service Standards and Performance
It appears that you as Queensland's political leaders are quite happy if mediocrity dominates in the Public Service - providing the mediocre are on 'your' side. A journalist recently quoted you both as (apologetically) endorsing politicisation of senior Public Service appointments (Franklin M., 'Only four survive Beattie's reshuffle', Courier Mail, 17/4/99).
The public service policies supported by all of Queensland's major political parties have 'an odious stench' in this respect. My letter of 25/8/98 enclosed a paper, Towards Good Government in Queensland, which recorded how politically driven 'reform' of the Public Service in the early 1990s had eroded its knowledge and skill base.
I expressed this politely by arguing the inability of our political system, on its own, to identify the nature of merit required for senior Public Service. Less politely, I now suggest that politicised senior level appointments can virtually force a purge of the most capable from the Public Service - in order to allow the politicised 'senior' appointees to appear competent. The mechanics of one such 'purge' are outlined in an Attachment herewith.
Our system of 'public service' now rests on a shaky foundation of ineptitude and injustice, due (mainly but not only) to the process of massive 'restructuring and restaffing' undertaken by the Goss administration - where any claim that senior appointments were based on merit would be laughable. The Public Service now contributes little to the credibility of government.
Continued political endorsement of arrangements which treat senior Public Service competence as optional (and thus repeatedly de-skill the whole Service) reflects a 'lucky country' attitude ie: Australians will be OK no matter what they do; and all that is required of government is to 'divide up the spoils' gained from a bounteous nature.
I disagree. Competence is required in Public Service, and is to be found mainly amongst those who do not have the political connections which now determine CEO appointments, and who abhor the crony-ism which often determines the 'Senior' Executive Service. Those whose only claim to advancement is competence must be allowed to have a career path.
[Signed John Craig]