CPDS Home Contact Professionalism: Chronological Summary

10 June 1999

Mr Lawrence Springborg,
Deputy Leader of the Opposition.

The Opposition's Approach to Senior Public Service Appointments

Thank you very much for your letter of 6/6/99 in response to mine of 28/5/99. Your letter explained your views about senior Public Service appointments, namely that:

Your comments are, I suspect, a fair reflection of the Coalition's policy, and I will suggest below that such a policy is not good enough. However, firstly, I should like to draw your attention to how the present Government is trying to defend its officials' positions.

The Government Now wants to Imply that Political Appointments reflect 'Merit'

The (enclosed) letter from the Premier's Office (dated 24/5/99; being a reply to my letter of 28/4/99 to Mr Beattie and Mr Borbidge concerning their reported endorsements of Public Service politicisation) indicates that the Government believes that:

My response to Mr Beattie about this is also enclosed (dated 31/5/99). It argued that:

However the Coalition's Policy is Also Too Simplistic

Coalition policy, which you outlined, does not attempt to argue that DG appointments need to reflect merit, merely that they be acceptable to Ministers - as the latter are accountable to Parliament for their Departments' actions. Your approach avoids the farcical aspects of the Government's approach (ie implying that appointments were based on merit, when merit did not have to be considered). However it is also inadequate for at least seven reasons.

First, it is inconsistent to argue simultaneously that: appointments should not be based on political leanings; and that incoming Governments should appoint DGs in whom they have confidence. The former lacks credibility, given the latter. Also: the loyalties and priorities of DGs selected this way; others' perception of them; and their probable limited knowledge and skills - all ensure that such DGs can not, if fact, be independent of a Government.

Second, accountability to Ministers can not be the only consideration. For example, the functional effectiveness of government also needs to be considered (eg in terms of issues like those outlined below), as also does the injustice which has affected large numbers of other Public Servants as a bye-product of politically driven 'senior' appointments.

Third, Queensland does not have institutional arrangements to support a US style Public Service system (which the Coalition's policy seems to be based on), because:

Fourth, experience suggests that the political process on its own does a poor job in selecting DGs with the depth of knowledge and skills required for policy advice and implementation, and for maintaining credibility with their peers. Presumably this arises because:

Fifth, de-skilling the Public Service at senior levels severely impacts on its skills at all levels, through inhibiting leadership and appropriate staff training and selection. As the Public Service is responsible for technically complex issues which involve large amounts of public monies, it is now presumably only a matter of time before the erosion of the Public Service's hard won store of knowledge and experience results in very costly errors.

Sixth, the application of the Coalition's policy by the Borbidge Government did not rectify the earlier erosion of the Public Service's practical knowledge and skill base by the Goss Government's 'reform' process (ie as is revealed by a cohort of supposedly 'senior' staff many of whom lack the level of knowledge and skills needed to perform effectively).

Seventh, there is core inconsistency (see above) between the philosophy of Queensland's major political parties about the Public Service - yet there can only be one Public Service. The latter will thus perpetually be disrupted by this policy inconsistency.

For these reasons, Members of Parliament (such as yourself) may need to give much deeper consideration to what is required for competence and effectiveness in the Public Service.

[Signed John Craig]