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OVERVIEW OF DOCUMENTS to October 2002 only - for later see Chronological Summary
The problem The effectiveness of practical policy advice and policy implementation in Queensland Government has been eroded, resulting in (or contributing to): 
  • a loss of competence in ordinary public services, and a failure to cope with economic change <1, 2, 3, 4, 5> . The latter in particular, in turn, led to serious social symptoms and to political instability in the mid 1990s <6, 7, 8>.  
  • a massive loss of intangible public assets, which made a mockery of any attempt to build a balance sheet for Queensland's tangible and financial assets <9> .
  • unexpected electoral loss due to widespread community discontent leading to a protest vote <10> - a phenomenon which became widely known as the 'Queensland effect' <11>
  • a loss of confidence in the effectiveness and credibility of politicians, and of representative democracy as a system of government <12>.  Distinct signs of political populism - a real 'banana republic' symptom - are also emerging <13>. 
  • a Public Service obsession with process and an inability to deal with reality <14> which can result in foolish actions even if  'no one does anything wrong' <15> .
  • plans for a system of 'output / outcome' budgeting which was inconsistent with the effective performance of many important government functions <16>;
  • an inability in the Public Service to take necessary independent initiative on issues that are in the public interest <17> .
  • an inability to develop realistic plans for the future <18> or to develop realistic strategic insights <19, 20>. This has critical economic implications because productivity is now a rate-of-learning problem, not a 'more investment' problem <21> .
The cause

In the face of growing challenges, successive governments since the late 1980s have progressively damaged the professional capabilities of the Public Service that are required to develop real solutions by seeking political 'quick fixes'.
      Most damage was done by a poorly conceived and incompetently managed process of 'reform' under the Goss Government in the early 1990s that VERY severely damaged the often-tacit knowledge and skill base that Queensland's Public Service had acquired through experience <1, 2, 3>  - damage from which it has not yet recovered.       
      Reasons for this damage were probably that (a) understanding of why problems in public administration had arisen in the 1980s was only superficial (b) existing staff were treated as the cause of those problems - and thus the experience and capabilities needed to give effect to a reform agenda which staff generally supported was lost along with common decency and professionalism; (c) control was placed in the hands of those with good political connections but little experience or practical knowledge; (d) a misguided 're-engineering' agenda aimed to treat governing as a business; and (e) relevant knowledge and skills were not understood and were eroded across the board.  <4>
      There was no recognition by those who designed 'reform' (and who may have had academic or media backgrounds) of the difference between the political system's concern with whether policy will sound good in press releases and a professional public service's concern for whether policy will work in practice (which makes their roles complementary in ensuring good governance) <5,  6> .  The political cronies who mis-managed 'reform' were quick to exploit their connections to gain even higher level positions elsewhere, leaving others to suffer the consequences. 
      Queensland's Westminster tradition, which had ensured a balance between political ideals and practical competence, was over-ridden - despite rhetoric to the contrary <7>.      
      However abuses of Queensland's Public Service under the AWU dominated Goss administration also involved practices with a similar flavour to the rorting culture which has been exposed as existing in the ALP's AWU faction in relation to filling important political positions <8, 9,  10>.  While 'reform' probably failed mainly due to incompetent management, the impact of cynical efforts to build a political power base without concern for the effect which this would have on functional effectiveness can not be entirely ignored.
        The Borbidge Government, which succeeded the Goss Government in 1995, did nothing that was really constructive about the dysfunctional state of Queensland's Public Service.
         On the election of the Beattie Government in 1998, there was a promise of a 'new deal' for the Public Service. But this undertaking was manifest nonsense <11, 12>

Continuing weaknesses

Evidence that the problems resulting from damage to the Public Service are continuing includes:

  • very serious and growing administrative, financial and other difficulties facing Queensland  (<1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8>);
  • populist programs to diversify Queensland's economy which can not produce commercially or economically relevant outcomes (<9,  10, 11, 12, 13, 14); 
  • the lack of effective machinery for planning and delivery of infrastructure (<15, 16 , 17, 18);
  • possible increase in perceived sovereign risk facing investors, due to the way a major project was managed <19>;
  • the public administration and financial difficulties that gave rise to an impasse over wages and to a review of public sector enterprise bargaining <20>. Amongst other problems the latter review raises the potential for a conflict of interest between ALP efforts to involve union leaders in their political organization, and an ALP government's negotiations with union leaders over staff wages and conditions. <21>

Queensland's public administration has become a monument to the fake, the self serving, and the bogus

A Case Study
A dispute exists with the Premier's Department as a bye-product of the inept 'reform' process in the early 1990s <1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6>.
      Its origin was a damaging abuse of natural justice through the blatant refusal of the Department to allow merit to be considered in relation to the making of a senior appointment.      
      The dispute is significant because the merit issues that were never allowed to be considered go the the heart of whether practical economic development and public service capabilities would be able to be created in Queensland <7. 8>. For example:
  • using economic management tactics based on government 'assistance' to industry (rather than on real market development) and adopting industrial era economic goals (ie encouraging capital intensive investments) when requirements for achieving high economic value-added had radically changed led to severe social symptoms <9>. And 
  • treating Public Service change as an academic / political game which did not build on existing  knowledge and competencies led to failures in ordinary public service delivery (about which a warning was given in 1990 on the basis of prior experience of more successful reform <10>). 

      This dispute, which one observer labeled as a test of the Westminster tradition <11>, will have to be resolved eventually <12, 13> .  A Public Service built on a foundation of ineptitude and injustice is not sustainable. In times of widespread administrative failures (such as the present) government must be able to PROVE it has not hamstrung administration by filling key posts with cronies and 'yes men', while moral authority is essential if the community is to be asked to make sacrifices (as may well be required in coming years). 
      Requests to resolve this dispute were referred in recent years to the Department of Premier and Cabinet on:

  • 10/7/98 (where the prior history of the dispute was also outlined);
  • 6/10/00 in view of the allegations to the Shepherdson Inquiry about a rorting culture in ALP's AWU faction in filling important positions;
  • 14/7/01 in view the then Director General's reported assertion that 'dumb luck' could be the basis of career success in the Public Service, and that running a major organization mainly involved creating an 'illusion' of direction;
  • 15/11/01 on the appointment of a new Director General (which included a suggestion as to the reasons <14> that the Department had been unwilling to allow professional merit to be considered) 

        The Premier's Department has always hidden behind formally 'correct' process and has been unable / unwilling to deal with the substantive issues the dispute raises <15>.  However by November 2001  <16>, it appeared that the Department was quite prepared to passively concede that:

  • it could not provide any credible justification for its actions;
  • professional merit was not allowed to be considered  to save the Department from embarrassment;
  • it had been impossible to gain fair and just treatment given the Department's attitude and the processes then in place for Public Service staffing;
  • Queensland's Public Service can no longer be seen as a professionally credible entity.

        But equally clearly the Department did not believe it would ever be required to account for its actions.
        The dispute could probably be resolved by simply forcing the Premier's Department to admit that it did not allow merit to be considered <17> - as the present Government's rhetoric is that appointments should be (and are actually) based on merit <18, 19>. The present Government also raises hypocrisy to an art form by lecturing on the need to give others a 'fair go' and 'put the victims first' while being unwilling to practice what it preaches <20, 21>
           Reasons that this dispute is proving hard to resolve are understandable <22>. In particular: those responsible used their political connections to advance their careers into influential positions in society; 'senior' public officials knew that that had gained positions on a basis that would not stand close scrutiny; and the Parliament had showed its unconcern for the professional credibility of the Public Service by legislating to prevent appeals against SES appointments.


Queensland's Parliament has traditionally been too weak to exert real control over executive government - probably because the state's resource-dependent economic character has not encouraged or allowed the development of institutions able to produce good quality raw material for public policy debate <1>.
       Officers of Parliament need to take responsibility for advising Parliament when the Public Service fails - but have, to date, proven unwilling to 'bite the bullet' <2, 3, 4, 5,  6> .
        An inquiry to the relevant local MLA about his understanding of why the Premier's Department was never called to account for the abuses outlined in the above case study <7>. He indicated that, when unsuccessful representations were made to then Premier, that was considered to be the end of the matter. There seemed to be no appreciation of the larger issues involved <8>. The MLA then suggested that the matter should be pursued via legal channels (9), though the Ombudsman's Office had stated that, due to the (unjust) law which prevented appeals against SES appointments, it would have to be pursued politically  <10>

Politicisation Bi-partisan support has existed for the politicization of 'senior' Public Service appointments <1>, and Parliament has legislated to legitimize resulting injustices by preventing appeals against Senior Executive Service appointments <2>
      A key contribution of a professional Public Service is concern for whether policy can work in practice - which complements the concern which elected representatives have for public opinion. When the Public Service is also 'political', its concern is also only with 'appearances' <3>.  Where the main role of the public service is to protect politicians backsides, the easiest option is to put a favourable spin on the facts (ie 'prove' that bad news is really good news) rather than confronting the much harder challenge of real change.
      Senior level politicisation must lead to a purge of talent at other levels - because of the threat real talent poses to the credibility of said 'senior' political appointees <4> .  The result is a Service dominated by cronies and 'yes men'.
      Politicisation allows ministers to shirk their responsibilities to the community, because, instead of being confronted by hard choices amongst technically realistic options, they tend to be presented only with politically palatable options and can 'pass the buck' for failures by saying 'we took Public Service advice'.
      The CJC has indicated an interest in politicisation - but non experts can not really assess the effect which this has on top-level skills until failures actually occur <5>. Such failures often come as a nasty shock to political leaders <6>.

The worst impact of politicisation is on the technical competence of Public Servants <1, 2, 3>. The effect on their political bias is much less significant. 
      There has been no real requirement for merit to be considered in senior Public Service appointments for a decade, and thus no way to establish the professional credibility of the Queensland Public Service <4>
     There is increasing evidence of concern about the loss of relevant competencies in Queensland's and other Public Services <5>.
        The Queensland Public Sector Union identified increased political bullying as a result of the breakdown of the Westminster system in 2002 - but was 10-15 years too late in doing so <6, 7>
     A tentative proposal exists for renewal of the Public Service on a professional basis <8>.

Government views Members of the state Government often express the view that merit IS the basis of Public Service appointments in order to create a professional Service <1, 2, 3>. However:
  • despite promises to the contrary the persecution of professional Public Servants (and de-skilling) continued under the first Beattie Government - with predictable results <4>
  • claims about appointments being based on merit (a) ignore the effect of politicizing Chief Executive appointments and of unresolved past injustices and the destruction of professional competencies <5,  6> (b) try to imply merit in past appointments when merit was not really considered and (c) overlook the need for selection panels to be competent if real merit is to emerge <7,  8>
  • a new office to promote Public Service merit and equity was created in 2000 after serious problems affect the previous Office of the Public Service <9> though the new body's functions were vague and it appeared unable to get at the political root of the problem.
  • when contact was subsequently made with with the Office of Public Service Merit and Equity (following advice from the Premier's office that the government was committed to public service employment practices that are not only based on merit, but are fair, reasonable and provide equal employment opportunities for all) OPSME gave a series of lame (and insubstantial) reasons for refused to address the dispute mentioned above <10>. In reality OPSME seems to exists only to provide a veneer of professional respectability on the Public Service - and to be quite ineffectual.

Opposition views

Members of the Coalition have variously expressed the view that:

  • merit in senior Public Service appointments is not really an important issue because Parliament is responsible <1>; and

  • merit is important - but nothing can be done to resolve past injustices <2>.

Official misconduct? Politicisation (and consequent erosion of the Public Service's skill base) does not in itself constitute official misconduct if legislation does not really require appointments to be made on merit <1>. However it can make such misconduct more likely.  <2>