CPDS Home Contact Professionalism: Chronological Summary

Transforming Public Servants into 'Puppets' (Email sent 21/12/09)

Mr Robert Needham,
Crime and Misconduct Commission

Re: Gray S., 'Public servants puppets to politics: CMC boss', BrisbaneTimes, 16/12/09

I noted your reported suggestion that 'public servants in Australia have lost much of their independence and objectivity' because 'the nature of the public service has changed, and long periods in office had undermined the Westminster tradition of fiercely independent advice regardless of incumbency'.

It is once again very pleasing to see someone in your position 'blowing the whistle' on the collapse in Public Service independence and competence associated with its politicisation. This is an issue which has required serious attention for many years - see, for example,

  • The Growing Case for a Professional Public Service (2001) which provided an outline of the collapse of the Westminster tradition of independent professionalism and consequent dysfunctional governance in Queensland and elsewhere, and
  • a Chronological Summary of Documents (since 2002) which (a) lists various analyses that have been produced of this phenomenon and its consequences; and (b) details representations which have been made about this since the early 1990s, initially as a result of a gross abuse of power by the Premier's Department under the Goss Government which directly damaged the present writer as a consequence of the shift away from the Westminster tradition.

The latter chronological summary includes a communication in 1999 with your predecessor (Mr Brendan Butler) in response to the then CJC's expressed concerns about politicisation. The fact that the problem has been apparent to persons in positions like yours for at least a decade suggests that it is anything but easy to 'put humpty dumpty back together again'. Moreover a case was presented to the Queensland Council of Professions in September 2001, and that Council seemed to agree that there is a problem, but did nothing about it.

Your reported comments imply that it is long periods in government that create the problem. I beg to differ, because the major adverse effects of Public Service politicisation do not result from alignment with a particular political faction, but rather from an unwillingness to provide a reality check on ANY political agenda, because of the career hazards associated with doing so. In other words, the main problem is the induced dominance of 'yes men' rather than of overt political cronies.

In Queensland it is very easy to identify the cause of the problem - namely the adoption of contract appointment arrangements in the late 1980s followed by legislation enacted under the Goss Government which (the Ombudsman advised) made it unnecessary to seriously consider professional merit in making 'senior' Public Service appointments. This created career risks for any who pointed out flaws in government policies or could potentially expose the ignorance and inexperience of political cronies (which was the present writer's predicament after 1989).

An environment free of such hazards is vital to re-create a professionally competent Public Service - though the process of recovery must take many years from whenever (if ever) a decision is made to do so.


John Craig