New code of conduct for Queensland public service fuels political conspiracy theory

By Stephen Easton

Wednesday July 11, 2018

A new draft code of conduct for Queensland public servants is already controversial — but not because of what it says.

Public servants are looking over the new draft that has been sent around by the Public Service Commission. It is accepting feedback until the end of July.

The state’s Public Sector Ethics Act requires the code to be reviewed at least every two years by the commission’s chief executive. Public servants can comment on the draft update via an anonymous online survey, explained the current PSC chief Robert Setter.

“The survey has been available to staff for the past seven days with over 3750 responses already received,” he told The Mandarin by email. “The survey closes on the 30 July 2018 and is being promoted across all Queensland public service agencies.”

Setter gave much the same explanation to The Courier-Mail, which published his comments yesterday, alongside bold claims that the commission began the survey this week in reaction to an extraordinary rant against the public service published by its Sunday edition, and attributed to a self-described “lowly ranked public servant” under the pseudonym Alison Adani.

The Brisbane-based tabloid reports the consultation survey began immediately after the Sunday Mail published the anti-public service screed, which uses every cliche under the sun and a heavy dose of hyperbole to complain bitterly about the state bureaucracy.

Excessive political correctness, lazy fat cats and discrimination against white men: all the nightmares of staunch conservatives about working in government are true, according to the opinion piece (which complains about a supposed pro-Labor bias in the public service, before explicitly confirming the writer’s desparate wish for a change of government).

It is no coincidence that the new draft code was sent around the very next day, according to another anonymous insider — this time “a senior public servant with more than 20 years’ experience within government departments” –who was quoted in the newspaper yesterday.

The article reports the new draft code sent around this week contains the usual warnings to “think carefully” about online comments, and not to provide unauthorised commentary to the media about government policy. Neither of these points back up the implication that this was not your normal consultation, but an attempt to intimidate public servants and trample on their already highly restricted freedom of speech.

The News Corp Australia tabloid and its national broadsheet stablemate, The Australian, have both kept the pressure on the Palaszczuk government over public sector costs for years, making Brisbane the hottest front in the war on public sector spending for the time being.

The Qld public service workforce has increased by over 16,000 full-time equivalents under the current government, which came to power promising to reverse a sharp reduction of about 14,000 by its predecessors.

Another favourite angle for the Mail is the suggestion that the Palaszczuk government is embarrassed by this growth, and has been trying to hide the numbers by releasing its workforce updates later than in the past, but again the facts presented to support the theory are a bit thin.

It is true that the most recent workforce profile report is for the December 2017 quarter and was not published until April, as an op-ed from political editor Sarah Vogler complained last week.

But her claim that it “revealed Queensland’s public service had swelled by almost 20,000 full-time equivalent positions during the Palaszczuk government’s first term in office” is somewhat misleading, given the report shows a tiny reduction from the previous quarter and the premier proudly reported its contents, once they were finally released.

“Budgeted growth in the public service of 1.7% is in line with forecast average population growth of 1.75 per cent,” Palaszczuk stated when the report came out, sticking to her longstanding line that her government will make sure its frontline services keep pace with the sunshine state’s ever-growing number of residents.

The opposition hoped another report on the effectiveness of the current Qld public service, commissioned last year from consulting firm KPMG, would undermine the government’s claims that public sector growth was mainly focused on the frontline. But it is yet to see the light of day, as Vogler also points out in her column, arguing this gives the impression that “it is being buried” to avoid embarrassment.

The premier suggested last year that it might be published in November or December 2017 after it went through cabinet.

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