Labor will slice the number of ministries and potentially merge some government departments if it wins office in Queensland. But Opposition Leader Annastacia Palaszczuk vows departmental heads will be picked on merit alone.
In the second week of campaigning ahead of the January 31 poll, Palaszczuk has also announced ministers’ salaries will be pegged to public servant pay rises.
Premier Campbell Newman was criticised for a number of his appointments to the public service, most controversially Michael Caltabiano as Transport Department director-general. Caltabiano, a Liberal player, was sacked after less than a year in the job after a Crime and Misconduct investigation into a departmental appointment of the son of a minister.
Newman, the former Brisbane lord mayor, also hand-picked council figures Barry Broe (co-ordinator-general), Helen Gluer (Treasury) and Andrew Chesterman (Environment and Heritage). Chesterman is now the public service commissioner.
“They will not be hand-picked,” Palaszczuk said of George Street appointments, “as we have seen the disaster when Campbell Newman hand-picked Michael Caltabiano.”
Labor won’t reduce the number of director-generals or necessarily the number of departments — Palaszczuk vows no public sector job losses — but it will streamline ministerial offices from 19 (the legislated maximum) to 14. And it will reduce the 12 assistant minister positions to just one.
Palaszczuk says planning has begun on which departments will be impacted. It wants to use the administrative savings — $27 million over three years — on investing in frontline services.
Palaszczuk says Labor ministers can handle multiple portfolios. “Make no mistake, government can operate under 14 ministers,” she said this week.
“This is about taking the right approach and sending a message to Queenslanders that we need to make savings and we need to enhance our frontline services.”
But the government says “mega-ministries” will be more costly and inefficient. “We know that any savings Labor claimed to make by reducing the number of ministers would be chewed up almost instantly in reorganising public servants into new departments, relocating staff and developing new systems for the mega-ministries,” Treasurer Tim Nicholls said.
Nicholls says government spending rose an average of 8.9% during Labor’s last decade in office; Liberal-National government expenses growth has been pinned to 0.1% in an austerity drive that saw almost 14,000 public servants lose their jobs.
Asked last week if more government jobs could go during a second term, Newman said: “I don’t believe so.”
Meanwhile, Palaszczuk says she will legislate to ensure the salaries of her ministers will only rise in line with public sector wage increases. “And I challenge Campbell Newman to do exactly the same,” she said on Monday.
Palaszczuk has come under pressure to release the opposition’s economic strategy to continue bringing down state debt. An LNP government will examine leasing and selling off electricity and port assets, which Labor opposes.
“Our economic strategy is ready, we will announce it at our timing of our own choosing,” Palaszczuk has said.
Correction: The original version of this article stated that Premier Newman “hand-picked Nationals man David Edwards to lead the Department of Employment”. He is not a member of the LNP and was never a member of the National Party.
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