CPDS Home Contact Professionalism: Chronological Summary

Email sent 22/7/09

Dr Paul Williams,
School of Humanities,
Griffith University

A Little Scandal?

RE: 'A little scandal is rarely fatal', Courier Mail, 21/7/09

Your article suggested that, if the present government loses electoral support, this will be the result of failed or unpopular public policy (eg inadequate service delivery or privatisation proposals) rather than because of a scandal such as the Gordon Nuttall affair.

This seems a reasonable conclusion. The electorate has seemed indifferent many other apparent abuses of power in Queensland over the past couple of decades (see Reform of Queensland Institutions or a Rising Tide of Public Hypocrisy?). The latter refers to indications such as possible: rorts in filling important position; abuse of FOI arrangements; cover-up of scandals; public service and political bullying; conflicts of interest that may involve corruption; suspect procurement practices; Executive control of what are supposed to be Parliamentary watchdog bodies; and 'creative' capital accounting.

However it is not just that scandals are quickly forgotten (as your article suggested that the 'Utegate' affair has been). Failures of public policy like those you mentioned (eg in hospitals, roads) have been obvious for years and yet the governments responsible have remained in power. In the absence of institutions that might allow an effective political Opposition to emerge (see More Competent External Support to Parliament), the electorate has shown a reluctance to shift from the 'devil they know'.

Moreover both the scandals and the public policy failures arguably have a common origin. The 'reform' process arising from the Fitzgerald Inquiry seemed to be used as an opportunity to put in a 'political fix' with the result that the skills, professionalism and morale of the public sector were eroded (see The Growing Case for a Professional Public Service which includes references to many indicators of resulting dysfunctions). Furthermore, abuses of power are undoubtedly more likely when compliant officials are disinclined to point out defects in political decisions (Davis B., `Public Service Culture May Foster Fraudsters', The Australian, 24/7/95).

Queensland's run-down system of government seems to be the real scandal.

John Craig