CPDS Home Contact Professionalism: Chronological Summary

21 August 1999

Ms Julie Attwood, MLA,
Member for Mt Ommaney

Thank you for the comments and suggestions in your letter dated 19 August 1999, regarding my letter of 23 July which had referred to the situation in the Public Service.

Your Perception of the Public Service

Your letter noted that your exposure to public servants suggests that most are competent, bi-partisan and have no concerns about abuses in recruitment.

Unfortunately appearances might be deceiving. For example:

  1. Regarding competence, the anecdotes in my letters reflect apparent failures in high level knowledge, skills and experience. These are capabilities: which government pays senior officials handsomely to possess; and which have disastrous effects if they are defective; but which are not easily judged by persons who do not have those capabilities themselves. They relate to the gap between being able to mouth trendy rhetoric to impress politicians and the media, and the ability (which those without experience usually lack) to cope with large complex organizations, be credible with their peers and achieve results in practice.
  2. Regarding bi-partisanship, my analysis (Towards Good Government in Queensland) argued that the appointment of overt sympathizers is not the main form of politicisation. Politicisation mainly involves preventing the Service from providing the competent independent advice which is essential because of the 'gap' mentioned in (a) above. In the 1990s, poorly informed, politically driven Public Service 're-engineering' frequently eliminated those existing staff with most ability (who could have provided competent independent advice), and promoted compliant 'paper shufflers'. This 'politicised' the Public Service, mainly because the latter have little basis for giving independent advice.
  3. Regarding recruitment, a different impression is given by many contacts I encounter. One of us is not being presented with a picture of the true situation.

The problem of de-skilling has arisen in the Public Service because it was assumed that 'there was nothing to it', so that persons who were politically well connected but who did not have high capabilities were allowed to manage a process of across-the-board restructuring and restaffing of the Public Service in the early 1990s, and subsequent tinkering.

Raising my Concerns with Another Authority

While I value your suggestion about raising the problem with another authority, I have no knowledge of instances of impropriety or specific allegations of misconduct that would be relevant to (say) the CJC, because, where there is no need for senior appointments to be based on merit, there can be no actual impropriety or misconduct in failing to do so. For example, the Attachment to my letter of 28 April 1999 to Mr Beattie and Mr Borbidge referred to a quite specific and blatant abuse of natural justice. Several years ago, some MLAs referred this to the CJC. However doing so was futile, as the CJC can only deal with issues of corruption. It has no useful way to respond to those who 'blow the whistle' on ineptitude. Even though the latter can be more costly to the community, there is no 'authority' apart from Members of Legislative Assembly who can require merit to be considered in Senior Public Service appointments. And, during the 1990s, they have (so far) chosen not to do so.

Furthermore the 'vague allegations' included in my letters are not my own, but rather are comments collected (without leading questions by myself) from responsible persons either in the Public Service or having dealings with it. They were made vague to avoid 'witch-hunts'.

A System built on Ineptitude and Injustice can never be Stable.

I have experience of Public Service in Queensland, and some understanding of what it 'feels' like when things are going well, and when they are not going well. And, when comments such as those included in my letters are widespread, things are probably not going well.

Though symptoms are only starting to become publicly obvious, I suspect that it will be a miracle if the present Government does not experience many administrative failures over the next year or two like those which ultimately dragged the Goss Government down.

I furthermore submit that it is unlikely that any government will now be able to successfully administer Queensland without policy changes designed to upgrade the relevant skill base of the 'senior' Public Service (because ongoing political instability will now tend to prevent the 'senior' Service's skill base being raised by time and experience).

[Signed John Craig]