CPDS Home Contact Professionalism: Chronological Summary

1 June 2005

Hon Mr Peter Beattie, MLA,
Premier of Queensland

 Preventing (not just fixing) Dysfunctional Public Administration

I noted your reported suggestion that people expect you, as Premier, to fix problems like those in Queensland's health system.

My interpretation of an article in which you were quoted: Queensland's Premier believes that his government could suffer from the health crisis - but that someone must take responsibility. People expect the premier to fix such problems, and this is what will be done (Ludlow M., 'Health crisis engulfs Beattie', Financial Review, 24/5/05).

However, as I argued in relation to the failure last year of Queensland's electricity network development, the political system under your leadership needs to take responsibility not only for fixing problems after an administrative failure occurs but also for ensuring that they do not occur in the first place (see email, 'Premier's men insulated from blame', 23/8/04).

The latter document suggested that "because governments can not anticipate every departmental problem, it is essential that they gain professionally skilled support ..... to attend competently to issues that are not politically foreseeable."

It is not sufficient for the political system to rely on outside advice. I noted your reported suggestion that problems in the state's hospital system were partly due to the AMA's failure to pass on warnings about medical problems.

My interpretation of another article: Queensland Premier is seeking to share blame for problems in state's hospital systems with AMA because it did not warn about problems that it was aware of. The AMA suggested that such warning were given - though not to the Queensland Medical Board. The Premier also suggested the need for attention to doctor's role in restricting the numbers of specialists trained. However AMA argues that government efforts to get cheapest possible solutions has consistently removed Australian trained doctors from the system. (Cole M., and Sommerfeld J., 'Premier points finger at doctors', Courier Mail, 24/5/05).

A failure to pass on warnings to Queensland's political system seems to be endemic in Queensland's institutions for reasons that are easily understandable.

For example, in 2001 a submission to the Queensland Council of Professions raised concerns about the declining professional competencies in the Queensland public sector as a result of politicisation (along the lines of the Growing Case for a Professional Public Service). Members of the Council of Professions seemed to agree that there was a problem, but did not pass on a warning to the State Government.

The reasons for their reluctance are not difficult to see. Giving warnings of problems that professionals perceive has become extremely hazardous in Queensland. For example, when in the early 1990s I tried to warning about the naivety of assumptions that were being made about (say) public sector reform and economic strategy, your Department's attitude was hostile. This resulted, as I am sure that you are aware, in a situation in which there is an unresolved dispute about your Department's refusal to allow professional merit to be considered in a formal grievance about the process of filling a senior policy R&D position - and about your Department's ongoing refusal to explain or justify that action.

As another example of the endemic unwillingness to pass on warnings, the Ombudsman's office apparently concluded in 1993 that legislation which made it unnecessary to really consider professional competence in making Senior Executive Service appointments could potentially lead to injustices (see Attachment B to Ombudsman's Reasons), but it did not appear to pass on a warning about this to Parliament.

Changes to Queensland Health alone cannot eliminate the source of the administrative breakdown it experienced.


John Craig