CPDS Home Contact Professionalism: Chronological Summary

Email sent 24/6/09

Professor Ken Wiltshire
University of Queensland

Fixing Government in Queensland

I noted your very reasonable comments on the hopeless efforts that continue to be made to reform government in Queensland.

My interpretation of your article: Many in welfare sector want to see whether government will amalgamate Queensland's Public Advocate with Office of Adult Guardian - which would be absurd as the former is a watchdog over the latter and thus must be independent. Decision to close the Office was made in April as a result of audit of government boards, committees and statutory authorities by Pat Weller (Griffith University) and Simone Webb (ex DDG of DPMC). It was one of many proposals in their flawed report based on highly selective research and scant knowledge of the importance of affected agencies. It suggested abolishing Tourism Queensland in the middle of its successful 'best job in the world' promotion - which was rejected. Office of Integrity Commission is to be filled - but will report to premier instead of Parliament. Financial Administration Act was recently amended to allow Auditor General's term to be extended on conditions that might compromise its independence. It is supposed to be an officer of Parliament. Experience over 20 years has shown that neither side of politics know how to handle GOCs which must be at 'arms-length' if they are to be commercially effective. The number of local authorities was slashed - and the amalgamated bodies are often dysfunctional with no true community of interest. SE Queensland's water grid has already been shown to be defective and unaccountable. Bureaucracy was recently shuffled into 13 departments which international experiences shows will reduce moral and make it harder for clients to relate to them. A massive privatisation program has now be announced which experience shows to be a trap for young players. Queensland needs a body to watch over the whole system of government in public interest. The Electoral and Administrative Reform Commission (EARC) used to do this and needs to be re-instated (Wiltshire K. 'Changes promote a worrying lack of oversight', Courier Mail, 24/6/09)

There is no doubt that some sort of well-informed body (bodies?) needs to look closely at whether public sector 'reforms' that are being made are sensible. My speculations about problems in the machinery of government are on my web-site. And as a result of consideration of the 2009-10 budget, speculations about the need also for external expert support in relation to both public finance and the economic outlook are in (a working draft of) About the 2009-10 Budget.

I have less confidence than you do, however, in the ability of a resurrected EARC to provide guidance on public sector machinery. The original was associated with the Goss administration which created the politicised, de-skilled and unrealistically centralized public service environment which has played a significant role in the subsequent ineptitude of Queensland Governments. While most of the damage was done by the PSMC and the Premier's Office, EARC seemed to me to be; (a) toothless; and (b) remote and concerned with grand theories rather than practical change management [which was most unfortunate as the reforms EARC was charged to deal with were not the only important reforms that were needed at that time].

My experience suggests that a major problem is that Queensland's community (and Australia's) inherited machinery of government whose basis the 'man in the street' (ie the electorate and their representatives) did not (and does not) understand - and governments have been prepared to accept lightweight advice about how to reform it from cronies who have either experience but little strategic insight (the Coalition's preference) or theoretical knowledge but little experience (the ALP's preference).

One way to move forward might be to convene a group reflecting both practical experience and theoretical knowledge and motivate them to: (a) identify (through networking) what the problems / opportunities are seen to be, and what work has already been done; (b) engage with community leaders to disseminate understanding of the problems / opportunities and get feedback; and finally (c) scope out the challenge and define the sorts of organisational arrangement through which it might be addressed. It is my perception that there are staff in various universities who have taken relevant initiatives over the years and that it would probably be possible to find individuals with practical experience to complement them.

I would be interested in your views about these matters.

John Craig