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22 August 2005
Mr Jim Soorley
'Beattie Burger loses its taste'
I should like to comment on your worthwhile critique of Australia's current machinery of government.
My interpretation of your recent article: There has been a radical change to government in Australia. The Westminster concept of shared responsibility and accountability has been replaced by slick marketing of one man bands (eg PM and Queensland premier). Independence of the public service, fearless and frank advice, autonomy of thought, constructive criticism - have all disappeared under the group think mentality of their leaders. Now it all comes down to spin. There is a need for something more substantial and healthy (Soorley J 'Beattie Burger loses its taste', Sunday Mail, 21/8/05)
First the problem you have identified has been developing (and very obvious to some experienced professionals) for a long time. For example, I have been drawing attention to the problem for more than a decade (see Document Summary).
Second the problem is not something that can be blamed in particular political leaders but has much broader causes (see speculations about this in Australia's Governance Crisis). This refers, for example, to (a) the historically-unprecedented complexity of the issues governments deal with that makes rational public debate ever harder and (b) the transformation of public services into politicised pseudo-businesses because of some poorly advised judgements about ways to overcome bureaucratic 'resistance' to change and to increase economic productivity.
Third, in relation to Queensland it is inappropriate to blame current political leaders for problems which were initiated many years ago (see email to Nicholas Gruen which is reproduced below). The latter also suggests the breadth of the problem.
Finally it would be feasible to rebuild a 'substantial and healthy' system of administration, given a reversion to a system of serious professional accountability, by using 'strategic management' methods similar to those used under the leadership of Sir Charles Barton to improve the performance and professionalism of Queensland's government machinery in the 1970s. However no matter what is done 'substantial and healthy' outcomes are not going to be achieved overnight.