CPDS Home Contact Professionalism: Chronological Summary

28 August 2000

To Acting Executive Director,
Office of Merit and Equity 

Merit in Public Service Appointments

Whilst I am unsure of the of the role of the proposed Office of Merit and Equity, I am writing to express serious concern about the need to restore professionalism to our Public Service.

An Unresolved Issue

Part of the background to this is an unresolved dispute with the Premier's Department which arose from its refusal in the early 1990s to allow merit to be considered in a grievance about the process of appointment to a senior policy research and development position. Details of this are outlined in the enclosed letter to Dr Glyn Davis dated 10 July 1998 (1).

Briefly: the dispute (which is a private matter of natural justice) arose when the Department refused to allow merit to be considered in a grievance I raised about the process of senior staff selection in its then Economic Development Division after (a) disgraceful manoeuvres had been used to make it near impossible for existing staff to obtain positions (b) I was not interviewed for a position similar to one I had successfully occupied for a decade (c) I lodged a grievance based on the quality of my work, the complexity of the policy issues involved and the Departmental circumstances which prevented these factors being appreciated and (d) the grievance investigator had declared himself unable to assess the matter on merit.

Why It Matters

Refusing to consider the nature of merit in economic development has proven particularly costly to the Queensland community (2). However 'reform' failure did not only affect my case. Hundreds of other professional public servants were similarly damaged. The result was a large scale loss of intangible public assets by de-skilling of the Public Service, leading to administrative failures under the Goss Government (3). And, as you will recognise, my case (a) invalidates any pretence that senior Public Service appointments in the 1990s were necessarily based on merit (4), (b) brings the professionalism of the whole Service into question, as senior staff make junior appointments, and (c) must now prevent progress so long as our Public Service is built on a foundation of manifest injustice.

Unfortunately these problems were not rectified by subsequent Governments (5). Furthermore all major political parties currently appear to endorse politicisation of senior appointments (6), which necessarily undermines the effectiveness of public administration in Queensland.

There are many current symptoms of defects in the capabilities of Queensland's Public Service as a result of its politicisation / amateur-isation (7).

There is also emerging evidence that the consequence of those defects are starting to become serious for the community. In particular I refer to the apparent difficulties which are emerging in state financing which presumably result from large deficit-funded commitments being made on 'strategic' initiatives. The latter are legitimate options for government, but can be extremely damaging if defects in the administrative machinery make it unlikely that supposedly 'economic' initiatives can be economically or financially productive (8).

Finally, Queensland is facing a particularly challenging environment (9), which requires the highest level of professional Public Service support to government.

Thus the professional competence of Queensland's Public Service, and the devastating effect of politicisation on this, seem to be becoming critical issues. Independent and professional advice to the Government and to the Parliament are essential if they are to be resolved.


Statutory Officers of Parliament (eg Ombudsman and Auditor General) are presumably well placed to detect the results of failures in the Public Service, and provide independent advice to Parliament (10). However they cannot have the knowledge and experience to assess the competence of specialised officials (11), and appear unwilling to grasp this particular nettle (12).

I presume that the new Office of Merit and Equity will take a role in promoting Public Service merit. However I greatly fear that any such role will be highly constrained, because:

Public Service Renewal

A tentative proposal for A Renewed Public Service for Queensland which could restore its professionalism is enclosed for your consideration (14).

I would be interested to learn what role your new Office of Merit and Equity may be required to undertake in relation to these issues - and also your reaction to the latter proposal.

[Signed John Craig]

1. Dispute: The circumstances are also outlined in more detail in an enclosed letter dated 28 April 1999 to both the Honourable the Premier and to the Leader of the Opposition.

2. Merit issues which the Premier's Department refused to allow to be considered in my case had very broad philosophical implications which included advanced (ie leading the world) understanding of methods for accelerating the development of industry clusters whose significance is outlined in an updated form in Defects in Economic, Tactics Strategy and Outcomes which comprises Attachment B of the enclosed letter to MLAs entitled More Evidence of the Need for Public Service Renewal.

3. An account of the failure of 'reform' is given in Towards Good Government in Queensland (enclosed). The main theme of that analysis was that supposed 'reform' in the early 1990s, flouted the Westminster tradition of an independent meritorious Public Service, and in doing so eroded its senior skill base - thus eliminating the best source of advice and support able to help in implementing widely desired reforms. This slowly and invisibly led to administrative breakdowns (eg muddles in health and education services, fumbled infrastructure planning) and to an inability to implement pre-election policies promising real economic development. Arguably Queensland's practical ability to achieve any goals, or to make realistic policy progress, was set back by 10-15 years. Comments concerning the 'reform' process by various observers are contained in Attachment A of Towards Good Government in Queensland. A recent attempt to summarise this is in Attachment A to a letter to MLAs, Queensland's Biggest Future Problem - A Damaged Public Service (enclosed, dated 27/7/99). An attempted explanation of how politicisation leads to a loss of relevant skills is presented in Note 5 on The Role of Statutory Officers when the Public Service Fails (enclosed, dated 15/3/00). A simple way of thinking about the difference involves recognising that our political system is concerned about how policy will appear on 'the six-o'clock news' - and that the professional Public Service used to contribute the ability to (a) advise about whether policy would be likely work in practice and (b) implement policy in such a way as to achieve real results.

4. Proof: The fact that merit was NOT a required consideration is senior appointments is proven by:

One observer apparently saw my case as a test of the (now defunct) Westminster tradition (see McDermott P., `Tenure of Senior Queensland Public Servants', Australian Journal of Public Administration, March 1993).

5. Further developments: The Borbidge Government sought to restore practical experience to the senior Public Service (through its 'Dad's army'), but did not fully address the strategic agenda. And merely installing a new layer of politically appointed CEOs could not correct the deficient skills base of the (so called) Senior Executive Service. The Beattie Government reinstated a populist version of the 1995 administration which had (invisibly) led to the downfall of the Goss administration.

6. Bipartisan support for politicisation was indicated by a press report quoting both the Premier and the Leader of the Opposition which was mentioned in my letter to them, Politicisation Lowers Public Service Standards and Performance (enclosed, dated 28/4/99). Responses were obtained indicating both political group's approach - and these contain serious defects. Those responses (and their defects) are outlined in two letters, Lowering of Public Service Standards and Performance through Politicisation and Opposition's Approach to Senior Public Service Appointments (enclosed, dated 31/5/99 and 10/6/99 respectively). In brief the Government's position was that appointments HAVE been made on merit [a truly astonishing view given that merit was not really required to be considered, and that there was no way to ensure that those who selected appointees (supposedly) on merit actually had the required knowledge and skills to make such judgements]. The Opposition's position was less farcical, ie it suggests that there is no need for senior appointments to be based on merit as Ministers are responsible to Parliament. However, as outlined in the second of the above letters, the Opposition's approach was no more satisfactory.

7. Indicators of a re-emerging shambles in Queensland's public administration include:

"Widespread terror, harassment and bullying which have characterised the Queensland public service in the past decade could bring down the State Government, a former Labor advisor and senior public servant said ... (she) said an obsession with accountability which pervaded the Goss and Borbidge administrations had become entrenched under Premier Beattie. .. the obsession was bleeding the public service of its best officers and its spirit. Threats of phone taps, constant or intermittent surveillance and demands for self justification had produced "fistfuls of stress claims". In the Justice Department there was "widespread terror' of administrative chiefs and unprecedented claims of bullying. ..(The Premier described the performance and morale of the Public Service as the 'best in Australia'), and the Director General of his Department described levels of staff satisfaction in the (Justice) Department as 'above the public sector norm' )... (she) said that under the Goss government accountability and efficiency were single-mindedly pursued to the point of vendetta. The public service near suffocated ... performance indicator reports, mission statements, strategic planning exercises, corporate planning forums, client service standards, portfolio planning statements, monthly reports, annual reports ... (she) said that "reform fatigue" and the "koala road" had given to the 1995 election to the coalition. Make no mistake the damage was immense .... the Borbidge government which followed persisted in continuing to implement reform in the one dimensional interests of that holy trinity - efficiency, productivity and accountability. And now the Beattie administration .... was failing to send the message to its CEOs that the public service has to be treated "humanely" " (Olsson K., 'Bullied public service fed-up', Courier Mail, 17/8/00 - which quoted comments ascribed to Ms Susan Moriarty) [Note: everyone outside the political system appears to agree with Ms Moriarty].