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Qld public servants ‘must be patient’ in bureaucracy
by Jason Whittaker
Two more public service bosses have walked in Queensland, and they’re unlikely to be the
last. But a former top state bureaucrat has told The Mandarin the government deserves time and
patience to make its changes.
Despite saying she wanted to avoid a “night of the long knives”, new Queensland Premier
Annastacia Palaszczuk has let Health Department director-general Ian Maynard and Public
Service Commission boss Andrew Chesterman go this week.
They join Premier and Cabinet director-general Jon Grayson, who left through “mutual
agreement” after Palaszczuk was sworn in. Dave Stewart will replace Grayson when he finishes
up at Transport for NSW next month. Kevin Yearbury is currently acting in the role.
Press reports suggest Maynard was terminated on Wednesday after meeting with the
Premier. Chesterman is reportedly on leave, but Rob Setter has been made acting chief
executive of the Public Service Commission.
The Mandarin sought comment from the PSC on public servants news but was directed to the
Premier’s office. A spokesperson for the Premier would only say:
“On assuming office, the Premier asked directors-general to satisfy themselves that they could be 100%
committed to the new government’s election policies given the people of Queensland had just voted on these
“If any directors-general feel the need to pursue other opportunities, they are free to make contact with the
director-general of the Department of Premier and Cabinet to discuss their intentions and options.”
Palaszczuk has said all directors-general would be assessed under a “merit-based” system
before being reappointed. The spokesperson says that process will start when Stewart begins at
Premier and Cabinet on March 9; questions on how it will play out were not answered.
Both Maynard and Chesterman were Campbell Newman appointees and had worked with the
former premier at the Brisbane City Council. Maynard was public service commissioner when he
was made Health Department chief in 2013. Chesterman, a director-general under the former
Labor government, replaced him at the PSC.
Health was one of the few departments left alone in a sweeping realignment of portfolios at the
ministerial level and in the bureaucracy announced last week.
In a letter to public servants last week, Palaszczuk said “we will do everything we can to keep
changes to a minimum”. Palaszczuk said the new government has “the highest regard for the
professionalism and independence of the Queensland public service”:
“That is why I have committed to restoring fairness for public servants and ensuring that the proper conditions
exist for them to provide frank and fearless advice to government.
“As part of this commitment, we will return to a Westminster-style model that values and supports a permanent
“We will also reinstate those conditions for public servants that were removed by the previous government,
particularly in relation to employment security, contracting-out and organisational change provisions.”
A ‘moment of choice’ for mandarins
The Opposition has criticised the latest moves, with Liberal-National Party leader Lawrence
Springborg calling it a “month of the short knives”. But Roger Scott, a director-general at the
Department of Health in the early 1990s under Labor, says public servants need to be patient
“with a leadership team somewhat surprised at the rapidity of its success, then distracted by
unexpected natural disasters, but one which has good intentions and laudable caution”.
“It seems churlish in the circumstances to complain, as the Opposition Leader has, about the
need to act instantly rather than prolong uncertainty: advocating a night of long knives rather
than a week of short blades,” he said.
“It has been very much worse in the past, particularly under the Wayne Goss-Kevin Rudd
regime when large numbers of senior public servants were rusticated to a vacant state school
on the edge of the city, promptly dubbed ‘The Gulag’. The terms of their ‘permanency’ made
their new employer hope that this demeaning treatment would encourage them to leave
voluntarily rather than expect employment elsewhere in the system.
“By contrast, the numbers under discussion now are tiny, and we do not know — and may never
know — whether the formal exchanges of letters conceals a desire on the part of any of the
individuals concerned to seek more congenial employment elsewhere after receiving suitable
financial compensation. It is a matter of preference on both sides of the optimal team — clearly
major changes in policy orientation or public endorsement offered by public servants to their
previous political masters enters into this equation.”
Of the reappointment process, Scott says directors-general will be challenged “to demonstrate
that they have the flexibility and qualifications as well as the motivation to serve comfortably
under new ministers with a different policy orientation”.
“Others, by contrast, will have the opportunity to rise to this challenge, particularly in the
relatively open-minded context of a fluid policy environment,” he told The Mandarin.
“The biggest change — even since Rob Borbidge and Peter Beattie — is that the career paths
of senior executives is much wider and more flexible, so that public service security is less
valued. On both sides of the political divide, there are opportunities either in other jurisdictions
— as seen by the incoming director-general of the Premier’s Department — or in the private
sector. This applies all the way down though the senior ranks but it is particularly relevant at the
“Change of government does not mean the end of the world for a director-general but rather the
moment of choice. In making that choice, a complex mix of considerations interact on both