CPDS Home Contact Professionalism: Chronological Summary

Email sent 28/2/09

Scott Prasser
Sunshine Coast University

Competent Support to Queensland's Political System

Your recent article (LNP loss will kill merger, The Australian, 27/2/09) noted the importance of the forthcoming Queensland election as a test of the experimental amalgamation of the Liberal and National Parties - which now operate as the LNP. You also suggested that the electorate has no clear idea as yet why they should switch to the LNP even though "Queensland's inadequate infrastructure, poorly performing education system, haemorrhaging public hospitals, rising government deficits, outdated governance, compromised and politicised public service and weak parliamentary system" are now associated with Labor.

However the LNP has provided some indication of its strategy for dealing with current problems. This would apparently include: increased emphasis on public private partnerships (PPPs); increasing efficiency in delivering major projects; re-assessing infrastructure priorities; asking the private sector what projects it is interested in; and creating a major projects office (Ludlow M., 'Springborg embraces PPPs', Financial Review, 25/2/09).

Unfortunately this implies that the LNP would be no more competent than Labor in governing, because:

  • the global credit crunch will now make it very hard for the private sector to mobilize funds for PPPs. Moreover anyone who understands what government is supposed to be about (see Fixing State Governments) would recognise that PPPs potentially make it harder for government to govern effectively - and that this will often outweigh any efficiency benefits on individual projects that PPPs might offer (see Public-Private Partnerships for Infrastructure, 2002);
  • what 'private sector' friends of government ministers could well be interested in is quick profits even if this is at the expense of the community and investors (eg consider the potential for conflicts of interest outlined in Brisbane's Transportation Monster);
  • Queensland's machinery of government is ineffectual as your article implied (see also Evidence of a Problem). Trendy but unrealistic (ie centralised and politically focused) machinery of government was put in place by the 'reformist' Goss administration in the early 1990s. This not only rendered that government incapable of delivering practical outcomes but has remained as a constraint on the performance of later governments (see Queensland's Worst Government?) and appears to have been a significant factor in crises that arose in child protection; electricity distribution, hospitals and water supply. To now focus on 'major projects' would leave government incapable of competently performing its thousands of other necessary functions. The strong focus by Bjelke Peterson governments on 'major projects' was a significant factor in the neglect of ordinary government administration in Queensland in the 1980s.

Queensland will continue to get inept government until those who stand for political office seek and receive much more competent support - perhaps by reforms along the lines suggested in Queensland's Next Successful Premier and in The Upper House Solution: A Commentary.

Such support is likely to be vital because (for example) the global financial crisis can be expected to create long term challenges, given Queensland's economic and budgetary reliance on commodity exports to Asia and that, for East Asia, export-oriented industrialization is unlikely to be viable in future (see Asia: The Coming Fury) while domestically-driven growth would require perhaps-unachievable cultural changes (see China: Victor or Victim?)

John Craig

Note: added later - there appears to be considerable political concern about the inability of Queensland's government to manage major projects - and this is the basis of attempting to create top-level organisations whose name implies that they are the 'solution'. However this reflects a failure to understand that, unlike business, government's core role is to manage relationships, not things (eg individual investment projects). If attention is paid to performing government's core 'relationship management' role, then it is possible to arrange for 'projects' (a middle-management responsibility) to be undertaken efficiently. However if executive government focuses on producing specific things (ie projects or specific outputs) then its top managers will be incapable of dealing with broader policy issues (ie managing relationship) and the need to try to do so will be an ongoing impediment to dealing effectively with the 'projects'.  The secret of success is to stimulate the development of a purposeful, cohesive and professional public service - which ultimately has to make things work. Such a public service (ie one competently seeking to achieve realistic goals and enabled to collaborate in doing so) must takes some time to emerge, but once created can perform effectively in both providing policy advice and delivery of goods and services as well as making make government easy to do business with. Attempts to enforce quick-fixes for specific concerns are likely to do more harm than good - though under emergency conditions they may none-the-less be unavoidable.