CPDS Home Contact Professionalism: Chronological Summary

11 October 2005

Ms Janine Walker
Griffith University

Incompetence in Queensland's Public Administration

I should like to offer some (very belated) feedback on the excellent points which you made a couple of months back about systemic problems affecting Queensland's public service.

My interpretation of your article: Queensland's public service's problems are systemic. Skills are being lost, and it needs help. Premier's concern about incompetence of the public service is a worry. Survey of supply of skilled workers to top 400 Queensland companies shows problem is worsening. Government also faces a similar labour market. Bad publicity associated with countless restructures and toxic thuggish cultures in some departments make it a matter of just getting bodies into seats. Some public service work is no longer good as a result. Some agencies seem incompetent. Public service is hard and demanding work. Planning and reporting have been developed to such a degree, that no one asks how well it was done. Public service needs to say how well it is doing. Lacking market disciplines, public service does not make a loss if things are done badly. Incompetent public organizations just keep on going, until public confidence is lost (Walker J., 'Situations vacant of proficiency', Courier Mail, 30/6/05).

I have for some time been assembling published indicators of the emergence of incompetence in Queensland's Public Service (and in other services) - see the Growing Case for a Professional Public Service on my web-site.

The point your article made about the need to assess how well any job is done is critical. However such assessment can only be done in terms of the professional judgment of those with a high levels of knowledge and experience. The issues involved in dealing with the functions of government are vastly too complex to be properly assessed by persons who do not have that knowledge and experience.

Queensland's problem now is that overly simplistic politically-driven 'reforms' to the Public Service have given no serious concern to the need for professional competence. Moreover in making 'senior' appointments it has been officially accepted that professional competence did not really need to be considered (a practice which has had bipartisan political support, and legislative backing) - see Ombudsman's Reasons.

This problem and its practical consequences has been obvious for many years. This was pointed out, for example, in a submission to the ALP following its 1995 electoral loss (Towards Good Government in Queensland) which was never acknowledged, as well as in many earlier and subsequent communications to Members of the Legislative Assembly (see Chronological Summary).

Unfortunately Queensland's political establishment has simply not wanted to know. For example in commissioning investigations into the most obvious current example of Public Service incompetence, that in Queensland Health, all inquiries were given terms of reference that were too narrow to identify the source of the problem (see Intended Submission to Health System Royal Commission).


John Craig