CPDS Home Contact Professionalism: Chronological Summary

31 May 1999

To Hon Mr Peter Beattie, MLA,
Premier of Queensland.

Lowering of Public Service Standards and Performance through Politicisation

I refer to a letter from your Acting Chief Secretary (dated 24/5/99; received today), which replied to my letter of 28/4/99 to you (and to the Opposition Leader) about your reported endorsements of politically based senior Public Service appointments. His reply:

I should like to congratulate you on reaching the latter (long overdue) conclusion. I should also like you to be aware that the Leader of the Opposition has not yet replied to my letter.

However your proposal is not good enough for three reasons:

Firstly I (and many others in varying degrees) suffered, a gross abuse of natural justice in the early 1990s when merit was not really required to be considered for senior appointments. As you will be aware, this gave rise (in my case) to an unresolved dispute with your Department.

Secondly, it is unacceptable that those installed in senior positions without having to satisfy objective merit criteria should now retain their highly paid jobs without close (competent and politically independent) scrutiny of their suitability. One can not bring a presumption of merit to past appointments, by introducing merit requirements for those made in the future.

Thirdly, I was exposed to what was farcically purported to be a 'rigorous' selection procedure in which 'merit' was said to be considered. That experience clearly showed that such a process can only be meaningful if selectors have relevant knowledge and skills. Thus, without specific recognition of the defective skill base of the current 'senior' Public Service cohort, procedures nominally requiring merit will continue to lack credibility.

I am Outraged, not 'Disappointed'

I find your Acting Chief Secretary's patronizing reference to my (so called) 'disappointment' with the outcomes of early 1990s selection procedures to be grossly offensive.

I am not 'disappointed'. I am outraged by the mis-guided and mis-managed process for 're-engineering' the Public Service (see below), which resulted in practice in:

Labelling my dispute as due to 'dis-appointment' is a transparent attempt to pre-empt the outcome of important questions I am raising about merit in the Public Service. It will not work, any more than your Department's subterfuge of not acknowledging that my dispute is about its refusal to allow merit to be considered (see its letter of 26/8/98, and my letter of 28/8/98).

Mis-guided and Mis-managed Re-engineering of Government

Your Acting Chief Secretary was correct in pointing out that many other jurisdictions have undergone similar Public Service 'reforms' in recent years. I was very well aware of this, and around 1990 I tried to point out the limitations of this, to the advocates of such 'reforms' - who unfortunately typically lacked the knowledge and experience to fully understand.

These initiatives tried to 're-engineer' the public sector, notionally as a means to deal with economic problems (ie to get more value for money; lower infrastructure costs). However, as is obvious from the mis-management of 're-engineering' in practice in Queensland, the basic idea was not risk free (consider outcomes outlined above, and explained in Towards Good Government in Queensland - with my letter of 25/8/98). But the attempted 're-engineering' was misguided for many reasons, only some of which are yet publicly obvious, eg:

Certainly other jurisdictions have undertaken similar 're-engineering'. They have also experienced serious failures as a result. The case of Victoria's Cain Government was already obvious when similar 're-engineering' was launched in Queensland in 1989 (see Attachment C of Towards Good Government in Queensland). And periodic bumbling by the present Federal Government shows that others have continued to made similar mistakes.

Though those mistakes have seemed less important due to Australia's recent 'miracle' economic status, they are none-the-less real and serious. And any close examination shows that there is nothing durable about our current economic position, or 'miracle' status.

The Problem has not been resolved

Your Acting Chief Secretary, implied that there is little substance to the 'perception' that political allegiances have played a role in the selection of Public Servants. His claim is not consistent with your Government's actions on gaining power, when most Chief Executives appointed by the Coalition Government were replaced. Why do this, if your Government genuinely believes that there is little substance in the 'perception' of political allegiances?

And your Acting Chief Secretary's claim that selection procedures are now rigorous and the competence of officers selected is rarely questioned, or questionable, is inconsistent with the anecdotes provided by Public Servants which were quoted in my letter of 28 May 1999. Ministers surrounded by political opportunists have little chance of hearing the truth.

The difficulties faced in politically selecting senior appointments which truly reflect the requirements to be effective in senior Public Service, were pointed out in my letter to the Hon Ms Wendy Edmond (dated 20/12/98). These have not changed since they turned the 'reform' attempts of prior Queensland Governments into disasters. Criticism of senior appointments has now reduced mainly due a general decline in Public Service capabilities - so that there is no longer a high standard to compare such appointments against (and also due to Queensland's lack of competent independent public policy institutions). Reduced criticism is a symptom of the problem, not a sign that there is no longer a problem. The proof of this will come soon enough through difficulties in competently developing and implementing policy.

A Question

Does your Government's apparent intention to re-introduce merit criteria for senior appointments include an intention to allow an independent review of what happened in the early 1990s when merit was not really required to be considered, and of the effect of discounting merit in cases such as mine and on the current 'senior' Public Service?

[Signed John Craig]