Roger Scott: amalgam of functions for Queensland bureaucrats

Queensland’s top public servants have been put on notice by the new Labor government. And a shake-up of state government ministries presents particular policy challenges, according to one former director-general.

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.

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