Roger Scott: amalgam of functions for Queensland bureaucrats

By Roger Scott

February 18, 2015

There is a feeling of 1989 about the machinery-of-government changes in Queensland, for those of us old enough to remember and close enough to events.

It stands in stark contrast to the total chaos which accompanied the incoming Anna Bligh government, where there seemed to be two sets of decision-makers, one political and one structural, operating without reference to each other and producing a complete dog’s breakfast.

Elation among ministers this time around is tempered by an awareness of their limitations. Some are there simply because they survived the 2012 drubbing and were prepared to soldier on though the institutionalised nastiness of the Campbell Newman Parliament. Others are there because of the differentials in factional alignments which have offset experience and qualifications: one historian suggested that this is the most “socialist” ALP government since TJ Ryan won an equally surprising victory in 1915. (Ryan also allowed women to sit in Parliament for the first time, so he would have applauded the current female dominance, which is already having a palpable effect in the consultative tone of discussions inside and outside the partyroom.)

For public servants, there is more of a challenge in structural adjustment rather than policy adjustment, given the modest aspirations of the incoming regime. Directors-general have been placed on notice that the reasons underlying their original elevation will be examined in the context of “merit selections”. Service in the Brisbane City Council was previously regarded as clearly meritorious above all other considerations; performance and qualifications will now play a major role.

“Incoming directors-general will face a challenging amalgam of functions …”

The incoming director-general of the Department of Premier and Cabinet, Dave Stewart, has the benefit of having served the incoming Premier in earlier ALP governments, before being dismissed by the Newman regime to make way for someone with a stronger business background, whose activities later came to the attention of the anti-corruption authority in New South Wales. After being dismissed as DG, Stewart then was re-appointed by the Newman regime to take advantage of his undoubted corporate and engineering skills before resuming as a director-general with the ALP regime in NSW.

Incoming directors-general will face a challenging amalgam of functions, with all ministers having two often disparate groupings to deal with. Some of this is a product of a pre-election commitment to reducing the number of departments; others one can only presume relate to the interests of the individual occupants or a specific policy concern requiring either improved co-ordination or deliberate separation.

The Premier, like her predecessors, leavens her weight of office with the generally enjoyable sideline of Arts. By contrast, her deputy Jackie Trad combines Trade plus Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning, plus a Department of Transport which excludes Main Roads, Road Safety and Ports. These three are under the same relatively junior minister (Mark Bailey), alongside his responsibilities for Energy and Water Supply.

New Treasurer Curtis Pitt is also heavily laden, with the additions of both Employment and Industrial Relations and ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships’, the latter reflecting the interests of many of his constituents in Far North Queensland. Avoiding ethnic stereotyping, the first female Aboriginal minister in Leeanne Enoch is given instead major mainstream responsibilities for both Housing and Public Works, plus Science and Innovation.

There are some apparently incongruous pairings such as ‘Training and Skills’ linked with the Attorney-General rather than with Education or Employment/Industrial Relations, but also some sensible co-locations such as Health and Ambulance Services and various aspects of environment and heritage under one minister. This will reassure Greens that National Parks will no longer be an adjunct to Tourism, which is grouped with Education, alongside main events, small business and the Commonwealth Games.

Two interesting innovations: a relatively junior minister in Coralee O’Rourke adds to Disability Services and Seniors a role specifying that she is Minister Assisting the Premier on North Queensland; and an immensely experienced minister in Stirling Hinchliffe combines being Leader of the House with being the only Assistant Minister of State Assisting the Premier.

Given the narrow balance in Brisbane’s version of a (slightly) hung parliament and the high salience of issues of accountability, this may well prove the most influential appointment of all.

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