Working With the Stock We Have:
The Evolving Role of Queensland’s Implementation Unit
Dr Anne Tiernan
Centre for Governance and Public Policy
Griffith University, Brisbane, Queensland
[Paper prepared for the International Symposium for the Journal of Comparative Policy Analysis special
issue ‘Organising for Policy Implementation: the Emergence and Role of Implementation Units in Policy
Design and Oversight’. Vancouver, Canada 3 October 2005].
Queensland’s Implementation Unit was established in March 2004, as part of a more general
organisational restructuring of the Department of Premier and Cabinet (DPC),1 following the re-
election of Peter Beattie’s Labor government for a third term in office. The rationale for its
establishment was clear – the Premier identified implementation as one of the weaknesses of
his government during his second term (Menzies 2005, p. 13). Stung by criticisms of fatigue
and inaction during the government’s second term (Wanna and Williams 2005, p. 73), the
Unit’s establishment signalled the Premier’s frustration with the performance of key ministers
and agencies in giving effect to his policy agenda, and in particular the decisions of Cabinet
(Parnell 2004). For a Premier personally invested in listening and responding to the public (see,
for example, Menzies 2005, pp. 5-8; Scott et al 2001, p. 198), and committed to ‘fixing’ the
problems of government (Preston 2003, p. 418; Wanna and Williams 2005), it was untenable
this situation should continue. Though generally uninterested in the ‘nitty gritty’ of
administration (Bureaucrat A; Menzies 2005, p. 14), Beattie indicated to senior DPC officials
1 During the restructure, the Community Engagement Division, a key focus of the second term (Scott et al 2001, p.
198), was transferred to the new Department of Communities. It was replaced by a new Trade and International
Operations Division with responsibility for exports, overseas trade missions and representations and a new
emphasis on security planning and coordination.
Working draft: 14 May 2007 1
that he wanted changes to ensure Cabinet decisions were being implemented in a timely
manner and that election commitments were being acted upon. Moreover, he wanted to avoid a
repeat of the systemic failures of administration exposed by a Crime and Misconduct
Commission (CMC) inquiry into the state’s child protection system.2 Thus he was seeking both
an oversight and a strategic capacity, though he would rely on his department to determine
how this might be developed.
This paper describes the background to and rationale for the Implementation Unit’s
establishment and profiles its role, structure, functions and location within the Queensland core
executive. Informed by interviews with key actors in DPC and line agencies, this paper reports
significant developments in the period since the Unit’s creation. It concludes that its first
eighteen months have been developmental as the Unit overcame an uncertain start to
consolidate monitoring and reporting (oversight) processes and systems across Queensland
government. The period since the Unit’s establishment has been the most tumultuous of the
Beattie government’s seven years in office. The government has been besieged by delivery
failures in child protection, electricity supply, roads and, most damagingly, the state’s public
hospital system. These have exposed deep-seated capacity problems in the Queensland public
sector, prompting internal debate about how such crises might be avoided in the future. The
difficulties of the third term herald a more strategic focus for the Implementation Unit in the
future – an emphasis on outreach, research and evaluation as it attempts to evolve central
capacity for issue identification, prevention and early warning.
Because it is the only sub-national government under consideration in this symposium, the first
section of this paper provides a brief overview of the Queensland political and administrative
The Queensland Context
Implementation poses a significant challenge for sub-national governments (Davis 1995, p. 17).
It is particularly difficult in Queensland, Australia’s third most populous state, where because of
2 In June and July 2003, when The Courier Mail, published a series of articles that detailed harrowing allegations
about the abuse of children placed in foster care. In late July, the Premier referred the matter to the CMC for
investigation. Facing an election in early 2004, Beattie campaigned on a promise that the government would ‘fix’
the systemic failure of the Department of Families to prevent vulnerable children, particularly those placed in foster
care, from being further abused and neglected (CMC 2004; Wanna and Williams 2005, p. 76). In its report handed
down in January 2004, the CMC outlined ‘a blueprint for reform’ for Queensland’s child protection system. Among
its 110 recommendations were proposals to establish a new Department of Child Safety and the need for a whole
of government approach to identification and protection of at-risk children.
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Australia’s federal system of government, responsibility for services including health, education
and transport, by far the most significant areas of state activity, are shared with an increasingly
interventionist and dominant Commonwealth government (Wanna and Williams 2005, p. 17).
Implementation in Queensland is complicated by the state’s large size, its diversity, and
decentralisation (Davis 1995, p. 145; Menzies 2005, p. 9). Though it has made fewer forays
into corporatisation and privatisation than other Australian states and territories (Wanna 2003),
the Queensland government faces similar constraints on its capacity to achieve results. In
critical areas like health, education and social welfare, the government depends on networks of
actors in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors. The current ‘hospitals crisis’ is a reminder
that public sector professionals are sometimes the most difficult to manage (see, for example,
Davis 1995, p. 145). Developing controls over a fragmented and geographically dispersed
public sector has been a persistent dilemma for Queensland governments. As former Deputy
Premier, Tom Burns, noted:
…we have control over major issues but no idea what’s going on in lots of government. You
are never sure what happens on the ground – you can’t know except when someone
complains (quoted in Davis 1995, p. 144)
Queensland has an eccentric administrative history, full of resistance to change and strong
personalities (see, for example, Halligan and Power 1992, pp. 161-201; Wanna 2003, p. 380).
Despite a tendency for Premiers to exercise strong central control (see, for example, Murphy,
Joyce, Cribb and Wear 2003), coordinating routines and machinery are comparatively recent
developments (Davis 1995; Scott et al 2001). For many years the Queensland public service
defied or at least ignored managerial trends adopted enthusiastically in other jurisdictions
(Davis 1993; Halligan and Power 1992; Selth 1993, p. 141). The state’s public service was
politicised, and remained ‘professionally unattended’ during the long years of the Bjelke-
Petersen premiership (Coaldrake 1989, p. 73).3 With a primary focus on service delivery, state
development and the personal concerns of a dominant Premier, and long operated as a ‘closed
3 Queensland was dominated from 1968-1987 by conservative Premier, Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, whose
idiosyncratic and highly personalised style of governance was controversial. Allegations of corruption against the
Bjelke-Petersen government were investigated by a 1987 Royal Commission, the Fitzgerald Inquiry. It found
evidence of widespread systemic corruption in Queensland’s public institutions, including by Cabinet Ministers, the
police service and parts of the public service. Its finding were a catalyst for significant reforms under the Goss
Labor Government, elected in 1989 after 32 years in opposition (For a detailed overview see Coaldrake 1989).
Queensland has the only unicameral parliament in Australia and has for years had an under-developed committee
system, further inhibiting oversight capacity. Queensland is a ‘winner-takes-all’ state which has been characterised
by having weak oppositions. The current state of the parties exemplifies this. The next biggest party in the state,
the National Party (a Country Party derivative) currently has 15 Members in the Legislative Assembly.
Working draft: 14 May 2007 3
shop’ (Coaldrake 1993, p. 150), the Queensland public sector failed to develop the professional
capacities of its Commonwealth and interstate equivalents.
The Goss Labor government (1989-1996) introduced a series of reforms aimed at improving
policy coordination and coherence across Queensland government.4 Strongly influenced by the
experience of the Commonwealth, New South Wales and Victorian public sectors (see, for
example, Coaldrake 1993; Selth 1993), it formalised Cabinet processes, strengthened central
agencies and created new structures and arrangements in an effort to build policy capacity and
ensure greater responsiveness to ministers and Cabinet (Davis 1995, pp. 26-27; Scott et al
2001, pp. 172-185). In 1991, Goss established a separate Office of Cabinet with its own
Director-General. Though initially welcomed, it came to be associated with the ‘Praetorian
Guard’ that surrounded the Premier, and was seen as an arrogant, domineering and politicised
outfit that discomforted Ministers and agencies alike (see Scott et al 2001, pp. 182-183; Wanna
2003, p. 371). Agencies struggled with what they saw as the unrelenting demands of the centre
while Ministers bridled at the controlling style of Premier Wayne Goss (Davis 1995, p. 144;
The Goss government lost office to a National-Liberal coalition between 1996 and 1998
(Wanna 1997), ostensibly because it was seen to be aloof, arrogant, and ‘not listening’ to
voters (Wanna 2003). New Premier, Rob Borbidge, used the opportunity to dismantle many of
Labor’s innovations, including the more directive role played by the Premier’s department
(Scott et al 2001; Wanna 1997). The Office of Cabinet was abolished, as was the Public Sector
Management Commission (PSMC), established to conduct reviews to improve the
organisational efficiency and effectiveness of all Queensland public sector agencies (Selth
1993; Shand 1993). Wanna (2003, p.371) notes that few mourned the passing of central
agency power. However the Coalition’s lack of investment in routines and coordination systems
made the government ‘prone to undisciplined and sometimes eccentric, decision-making’ (Glyn
Davis, quoted in Menzies 2005, p. 11).
Beattie became Premier at the head of a minority Labor government in 1998. He rejected a
return to Goss’s highly centralised approach, opting for a more collaborative style, mediated
through the Policy Division of DPC (Scott et al 2001, p. 194). Over several terms, and
especially since his landslide election victories in 2001 and 2004 (Wanna and Williams 2005),
4 For original source documents describing the reform agenda see Davis 1993. For analysis and assessment see
Working draft: 14 May 2007 4
Beattie has pursued a more directive approach, centralising power and decision-making within
DPC, and increasing reporting obligations on ministers (Menzies 2005, pp. 12-15).
Establishment of the Implementation Unit can be read as part of this trend (Menzies 2005, p.
13), though much remains outside his scope and influence. Its location within his own
department reflects Beattie’s confidence and trust in its capacity and leadership (Menzies 2005,
p. 14; Scott et al 2001, p. 195).
The Implementation Unit
A view of how and why the Implementation Unit was formed and developed helps in an
understanding of the work it has achieved to date and its directions for the future.
The Premier’s concerns about implementation resonated with ideas already under discussion
within the Policy Division. From early 2003, officials had been examining ways of building upon
and refining mechanisms and routines developed to ensure government was delivering on its
promises. Significant work was underway on the monitoring and reporting of election and other
government commitments. The Policy Division was also exploring opportunities to become
more proactive and forward-looking, to create capacity beyond the constraints of the weekly
Cabinet schedule.5 An internal research paper reviewed trends and developments in Australian
and international jurisdictions, noting that governments, particularly multi-term governments,
were directing increased attention towards implementation and service delivery. Influenced by
the accounts of staff returning from exchanges to the UK Strategy Unit, the Divisional Executive
requested that further work be done on developing an Implementation Unit, modelled on the
British Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit. Officers in Policy Division’s Strategic Policy Unit had also
been monitoring the decision to establish an Implementation Unit within the Commonwealth
Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. From this general search for ideas to improve
monitoring and oversight came a focus on implementation.
A detailed proposal for establishing an Implementation Unit in DPC was put to Premier Beattie
after the election in February 2004. It argued that current monitoring mechanisms including
twice-yearly reports to Cabinet on election commitments, annual reports from ministers on
progress towards priorities outlined in Charter Letters and twice-yearly reports from Chief
5 Pers. communication with DPC staff.
Working draft: 14 May 2007 5
Executive Officer (CEO) committees, were reactive rather than proactive, and that the Policy
Division lacked both personnel resources and capacity to support agencies encountering
implementation problems. The proposal argued that the establishment of a dedicated unit
would enable existing mechanisms for overseeing implementation to be consolidated, and
create capacity to develop new and enhanced linkages with Cabinet and budget processes. By
emphasising Cabinet’s interest in the implementation of policy decisions, it was anticipated
agencies would give more specific consideration to implementation planning during policy
design and development. Ongoing monitoring and reporting was expected to encourage closer
cooperation and liaison between line agencies and DPC, allowing problems or slippages to be
identified earlier, resulting in fewer ‘surprises’ for Cabinet and greater capacity to pursue
corrective and if necessary ‘hands-on’ strategies to get implementation back on track.
Role and functions
It was proposed the new Unit would have responsibilities in four key areas.
The first, was supporting the government’s agenda setting processes. The Unit would have
responsibility for preparing the Statement of Priorities announced by the Premier at the
beginning of each term. The Beattie government has used this as the key ‘directional
statement’ of the government’s policy intent. It identifies areas in which the government is
seeking significant improvements as a result of an enhanced focus during the term.6 The
priorities shape policy development and budget allocation decisions, and provide a framework
for planning and reporting processes across government. The Priorities in Progress report,
coordinated by DPC and Treasury as a requirement of the Charter of Social and Fiscal
Responsibility, provides an annual assessment of the government’s performance towards
achievement of its priorities.7 The government’s third term priorities include:
• Improving health care and strengthening services to the community
• Realising the Smart State through education, skills and innovation
• Protecting our children and enhancing community safety
• Managing urban growth and building Queensland’s regions
6 Letter from Director-General of DPC, Dr Leo Keliher, to agency heads, 4 May 2004. Tabled by the Premier in
Parliament, 2 September 2004.
7 Priorities in Progress reports can be accessed from:
Working draft: 14 May 2007 6
• Protecting the environment for a sustainable future
• Growing a diverse economy and creating jobs
• Delivering responsive government8
For the Implementation Unit, the directions outlined in this and other significant documents
such as the election platform, the budget and other major policy statements would provide the
focus for monitoring, with the aim of ensuring early identification of potential problems or
A second area of activity for the Implementation Unit was to clarify expectations of what is to
be achieved during the term at both Ministerial and agency level, and to ensure ownership and
responsibility for delivery is clear. Key mechanisms for this include Ministerial Charter Letters
which outline the Premier’s expectations of individual ministers and their departments for each
term of office, and CEO performance agreements negotiated by the Office of Public Sector
Merit and Equity (OPSME) between the Premier and agency heads.
Monitoring performance and implementation was a third area of focus for the Implementation
Unit’s work, while reporting to Cabinet on achievements and the status of major initiatives was
In August 2004,the Unit assumed an additional role – managing issues of personal interest to
the Premier. It took responsibility for developing a ten-year strategy to guide the Premier’s
Smart State vision. Beattie has a strong personal investment in the concept of Queensland
becoming a ‘smart state’, one where ‘knowledge, creativity and innovation drive economic
growth to improve the quality of life for all Queenslanders’ (Queensland Government 2005). A
small unit, headed by the Implementation Unit’s Executive Director, was formed to develop a
whole-of-government strategy informed by research and a detailed consultation process. The
strategy, which includes coordinated implementation and reporting across agencies and a
performance evaluation and reporting framework, was launched by the Premier in April 2005.
The Unit took carriage of the Smart State strategy because it fitted with the skills and expertise
of its staff. This also reflected the Premier’s wish that key individuals he knew and trusted
should be involved in its development.9 A Smart State strategy team has been formed within
8 For a more detailed discussion of the priorties, see http://www.thepremier.qld.gov.au/priorities/index.shtm.
9 Menzies (2005, pp. 15-17) argues that Beattie runs a highly personalised administration, developing
relationships of trust with individuals who are responsive to his style and methods of operation.
Working draft: 14 May 2007 7
the Implementation Unit to oversee the implementation phase. Importantly, and in contrast to
existing arrangements, the Unit would work prospectively – with agencies on major policy
proposals to ensure Cabinet submissions would address implementation challenges. It would
also work retrospectively – monitoring the implementation of Cabinet decisions and, if
necessary, taking follow-up action to address problems or issues that may arise as policy intent
is translated into practical action. The Unit would extend the reach of the Premier and his
department beyond the Cabinet decision stage to continuing involvement with agencies in
monitoring the implementation of Cabinet decisions (Menzies 2005, p. 13). By promoting ‘front-
end’ consideration of implementation issues, it was envisaged the Unit would help develop
improved implementation capacity in the Queensland public sector. It is worth noting here the
parallels in the language used by Peter Shergold (2003) to describe the activities of the
Commonwealth’s unit and that expressed in the Queensland proposal. DPC’s adoption of
Shergold’s description of prospective and retrospective action (see Wanna 2005, p. 5)
suggests that by early 2004, the Australian variant was having more of an influence on the
Queensland model than the more ambitious UK Delivery Unit.
Formation and structure
Queensland’s Implementation Unit was formed from existing parts of Policy Division, and
without a significant injection of new resources or personnel. The former Strategic Policy,
Reporting for Government and later the Policy Research units were combined, in a decision
that reflected administrative convenience rather than a considered resourcing strategy
(Bureaucrats A, B, C). Many of the fifteen staff who made up the initial staffing cohort brought
existing functions and obligations with them. This proved problematic during the first few
months of the Unit’s operations, as the group endeavoured to integrate the three previously
disparate work programs. The Unit’s structure developed around these three key functions. Its
To drive the effective implementation of Government election commitments and key policy
• Supporting Policy Division to assist agencies ensure critical implementation risks are
adequately considered pre and post Cabinet;
• Strengthening the research base for policy development on complex delivery issues;
Working draft: 14 May 2007 8
• Providing regular progress reports to the Premier and Cabinet on the implementation
of Government priorities; and
• Directly oversighting the delivery and evaluation of significant projects.10
The decision to locate the Unit within Policy Division and not as a separate entity was a
pragmatic one. The Premier had previously eschewed the idea of functional separation,
believing it too close to the Cabinet Office model (Bureaucrat A; also see Scott et al 2001, p.
195). Moreover the Unit’s work was seen as being closely integrated with the rest of Policy
Division’s work. Senior officials interviewed for this study report that implementation is seen as
another part of the policy cycle and that accordingly, ‘There is no logic in separating it from
other parts of the process’ (Bureaucrat A). DPC respondents see the establishment of the Unit
as formalising what had for a long time been a rather ad hoc approach to implementation
(Bureaucrats D; H). Embedding the Unit within Policy Division also ensured much-needed skills
and expertise were retained, rather than fragmented. In a highly fluid political environment such
has prevailed in Queensland over recent times, such flexibility is crucial. Policy Division has
proved itself highly adaptable to the Premier’s needs, through for example, its capacity to form
project teams to deal with emerging issues and priorities, and to provide rapid briefing on
issues across government (Menzies 2005, p. 14). However though staff had strong central
agency experience and networks, none had specific implementation skills nor project
management expertise like their Commonwealth counterparts (Wanna 2005). An early priority
was to identify and develop the requisite skills through professional development opportunities,
seminars and unit meetings.
Conscious of the legacy of distrust of central agency intervention, DPC’s approach was initially
cautious. Senior officials claim the department is sensitive to the dilemmas of strong central
control and that, accordingly, they emphasise the need to build trusting relationships with
agencies, and the need to avoid imposition, duplication and burdens on them from multiple
points of contact (Bureaucrat A; E). This may help to explain why, rather than dealing directly
with government agencies, Queensland’s Implementation Unit works through the existing
network of Portfolio Contact Officers (PCOs) in the four specialist units of Policy Division –
Economic Policy, Law and Justice Policy, Social Policy and Environment and Resources
Policy. This provides agencies with a single point of contact in DPC, and enables PCOs to
deepen their content knowledge and expertise.
10 Implementation Unit Business Plan 2004-05.
Working draft: 14 May 2007 9
Though motivated by a desire to avoid becoming an additional encumbrance on agencies, this
is a potential vulnerability of the Queensland model. The PCO group is burdened by existing
obligations to the Cabinet process. Further, staff who are relatively junior in classification have
generalist policy skills rather than any deep expertise in implementation and have found
themselves fire-fighting the litany of controversies that has dogged Beattie’s administration in
its third term. Implementation Unit staff rely on PCOs to collect information about
implementation issues from agencies, and to use their knowledge and understanding of
departments and their programs to identify and assess implementation risks and problems. The
volume of submissions and the relatively short Cabinet timetables make it difficult for PCOs to
be proactive at the ‘front-end’ of policy development. Much depends on the quality of
information provided by agencies. Building the skills and judgment capacities of the PCO group
remains a priority (Bureaucrat A), but early plans to develop a Delivery Unit style ‘toolkit’ of
resources to support implementation planning seem to have been overtaken by events.
Figure 1 shows the structure and working relationships of the Implementation Unit.
Working draft: 14 May 2007 10
Figure 1 Implementation Unit structure and working relationships
Department of Premier and Cabinet (DPC)
Policy Unit Environment
Strategic Policy Unit
Reporting for Government
Policy Research Unit
Dealings with other agencies
Anxious to avoid perceptions of creeping central agency interference, DPC leaders stressed
that the Unit’s role would not diminish the responsibility and accountability of Ministers or CEOs
for implementation of portfolio-related government priorities.11 Instead it would work to ensure
implementation skills and capacities were developed in line with departments. In a letter to
agency heads, Director-General of DPC, Dr Leo Keliher explained:
The focus of this unit will be to monitor the Government’s key election and policy commitments,
keep the Premier informed of progress or otherwise in meeting those commitments, and work
with agencies to ensure implementation occurs.
11 Letter from Dr Leo Keliher to agency heads, 12 March 2004. Tabled by Premier Beattie in Queensland
Parliament, 2 September 2004.
Working draft: 14 May 2007 11
It is intended the Unit will build on and consolidate the work of a number of areas within Policy
Division to focus on improving implementation. It is designed to deliver:
• An enhanced focus on outcomes and increased capacity to quantify the Government’s
• Front-end consideration of implementation issues;
• Enhanced problem-solving and removal of obstacles, in conjunction with departments; and
• Timely implementation, with potential slippages being identified and rectified earlier.
More specifically, the unit will:
• Monitor and report on the implementation of all election commitments;
• Monitor and pursue the implementation of all Cabinet and Cabinet Budget Review
Committee (CBRC) decisions; and
• Monitor and facilitate the implementation of key policy initiatives.
Much of the Unit’s first few months was spent scoping and refining its work program. Staff
researched how comparable jurisdictions approached their work, exchanging ideas and
information with the Commonwealth Implementation Unit and functional equivalents in other
state and territory jurisdictions. But there was limited time for conceptual development or to
flesh out in any detail how the Unit might operate. There was pressure to ‘hit the ground
running’ and ‘to get runs on the board quickly’ (Bureaucrats B; F). Early achievements included:
• Announcement of government priorities (April 2004)
• Development and circulation of Ministerial charter letters (May 2004)
• Identification of key initiatives for inclusion in the ‘Top Fifty’ report to Cabinet (see below)
• Development of a schedule of reporting to Cabinet and CBRC.
Working draft: 14 May 2007 12
Another achievement was the development of an Implementation Assessment Template to
‘assist agencies in considering implementation during the policy development phase’.12 The
Unit was also responsible for revisions to the Queensland Cabinet Handbook to include the
requirement for Implementation Plans in all Cabinet submissions, and to reflect the stronger
emphasis on implementation in recommendations to Cabinet (Queensland Cabinet Handbook,
Chapter 5, 5.41).
Though procedural in nature, the requirement to include implementation plans in Cabinet
submissions is seen by some as having had positive effects. Agency respondents report they
have received useful feedback from the Implementation Unit (via PCOs) on tightening
recommendations to make clear ‘who is doing what and by when’ (Bureaucrat I). But others are
sceptical about the extent to which the Unit has been successful in promoting greater
awareness or understanding of implementation issues, suggesting the Cabinet Handbook
changes are seen as a compliance activity (Bureaucrat L). The requirement to record an
individual officer as being specifically responsible for initiatives in implementation plans has
provoked some unease, but DPC officers believe it improves accountability and empowers
those officers to drive change (Bureaucrat A; E).
Some respondents identify the requirement for evaluations to be included in new policy and
program initiatives as evidence of a stronger ‘front-end’ focus on implementation over the past
eighteen months (Bureaucrat D; K). The historic lack of an evaluation culture, and of a
systematic process for evaluating government programs, is a significant weakness of the
Queensland public sector.13 A legacy of the failure to embed public sector reform initiatives,
and a lack of central mechanisms to drive a focus on outcomes and performance, it is seen as
having a role in recent failures. While there is much to be done to improve agency awareness
and understanding of the need to focus on implementation and review, and to develop
processes and incentives to develop a stronger ‘connect’ between policy development and
implementation, some progress has been made on new policies and programs. Despite its
difficulties, the Beattie government has delivered a number of significant policy initiatives during
the third term. Significant among these are the Smart State strategy, the South-East
Queensland Infrastructure plan and a Homelessness package. These whole-of-government
12 Framed as a guidance to agencies, this is available at:
13 This was a consistent theme in interview data collected for this study. It requires further examination and
Working draft: 14 May 2007 13
initiatives are underpinned by detailed implementation plans; they also provide a forum for
‘strategic conversations’ to drive issue identification across government.
From Reporting to Oversight
Reporting was the primary focus during the Unit’s establishment phase, that is developing the
suite of reports that would assist in monitoring implementation issues and trends. The Unit
prepares three significant reports. The Cabinet milestones report monitors implementation of
Cabinet decisions against milestones identified in implementation plans in Cabinet
submissions. Intended as an information tool to assist agencies in keeping track of
commitments, the milestones report is circulated monthly to departments through PCOs for
review and updating. DPC officials report that after some initial reticence, agencies are
beginning to respond positively to the milestones report. It provides a basis for dialogue and
information exchange between line departments and the central agency about the status of
new initiatives and programs. If agencies slip, Implementation Unit staff talk with PCOs about
why progress is not being made, and to determine what intervention may be required to
expedite matters. Because they focus attention on who is responsible for what and when, the
milestones report is also a useful leverage point for cross-agency initiatives.
Two other reports are for Cabinet consideration. These are the election commitments report,
provided twice-yearly, and the key initiatives report, known colloquially as the ‘Top Fifty’.
Borrowed from the Commonwealth Implementation Unit, this is a status report on high priority
election commitments, Cabinet and CBRC decisions. The ‘Top Fifty’ issues are identified by the
policy units and updated at monthly meetings between the units and the Implementation Unit.
This report uses a ‘traffic lights’ system, modelled on the Commonwealth’s approach (see
Wanna 2005), to assess the level of risk of individual initiatives not being implemented, or
falling behind implementation schedule. The monthly meeting maintains a focus on
implementation, and is an opportunity to review the assessment of particular initiatives. The
information contained in this report is used strategically to identify problems, blockages and
reasons for lack of progress. It has been restructured in recent months to have a more explicit
focus on risk. For initiatives assessed ‘red’ or ‘orange’, agencies are required to identify the
remedial actions they will take to reduce or mitigate risk in the future. An initiative comes off the
‘Top Fifty’ list when DPC is confident it is firmly on track.
Working draft: 14 May 2007 14
The view among DPC respondents interviewed for this study is that creating a focus on
implementation has been a significant achievement of the Unit’s first year. According to well-
placed observers, regular reporting and awareness that implementation is a priority for the
Premier is fostering a sense of shared commitment among Ministers that their agencies need
to focus on getting delivery happening. When the first reports went to Cabinet, Ministers read
them with interest. Most agreed it was a good discipline, and that the information would be
useful for dialogue with their agencies about issues needing attention and action. Cabinet’s
focus has been somewhat distracted by the political fire-fighting imperatives of the past twelve
months. It has been difficult for the Unit to obtain specific feedback on performance or
expectations. The reports of the Queensland Public Hospitals Commission of Inquiry and the
Health Systems review, due shortly, may provide an opportunity to canvas options for the
A lack of continuity in the Unit’s leadership hindered progress during the early months. The
foundation Executive Director, former Cabinet Secretary, Jennifer Menzies, who was integral in
the Unit’s creation, left DPC in December 2004. Her replacement, former Commonwealth
Treasury officer, Pradeep Philip, did not arrive until April 2005, leaving the Unit without strong
direction at a critical point in its development. This, together with its indirect role in dealing with
agencies may explain the relative lack of recognition and understanding of the Unit’s role and
purpose across Queensland government. It was an uncertain time for staff, a high proportion of
whom were temporary appointments, whose future roles with the Unit could not be resolved
until a new Executive Director was appointed.
The change of leadership heralded a new phase for the Implementation Unit. Respondents
describe the first twelve months as the establishment phase; the Unit is now in a ‘consolidation’
phase. The arrival of a new Executive Director has brought a change of emphasis. Reflecting
Philip’s Commonwealth Treasury background and experience, the language of ‘risk
management’ now permeates the Unit’s activities. As its processes mature, the Unit hopes to
promote behaviour change by creating a focus on and a culture of identifying and acting on
risks. Though educated in Queensland, Philip lacks the deep networks of his predecessor.
However since taking on the position he has been working to improve the Unit’s visibility, by
meeting individually with department heads, and by developing links through new coordinating
Working draft: 14 May 2007 15
mechanisms including the Heads of Policy forum and the Policy Officers Network.14
Unencumbered by the baggage of Queensland public service career experience, and steeped
in Commonwealth government systems and processes, Philip brings a new approach, one that
emphasises the linkages between the different functions of the Unit – in particular between the
policy research and reporting functions.
The focus on reporting has consolidated oversight mechanisms available to the Queensland
Premier and his Cabinet. This has been achieved without significant impost on agencies,
though whether this is being treated by them as a compliance exercise or promoting
understanding and awareness of the need to focus on implementation remains to be seen. The
Unit continues to review and refine its suite of reports with the aim of improving their structure,
efficiency and utility. The oversight function is evolving with experience, as the Unit and
agencies settle into its rhythms and negotiate its possibilities.
Towards Strategic Capacity
The Implementation Unit has been developing against a backdrop of political turmoil in
Queensland. Since being returned with a 37 seat majority in February 2004 (Wanna 2004, p.
608), the government has been mired in a series of political controversies, some substantive,
others reflecting the ‘wicked’ nature of problems confronting sub-national governments trying to
deliver responsive services to a demanding and often sceptical public. Others have been
storms in a teacup, fanned by the increasingly antagonistic relationship between the
government and Brisbane’s only locally produced newspaper, The Courier-Mail newspaper.15
The cumulative effect has been a dramatic decline in Beattie’s own and his government’s
support (Australian Associated Press, 11 September 2005; The Australian, 22 September
2005, 17 September 2005).
As the fortunes of his government have faltered, Beattie has scape-goated the public service
(The Australian 21 September 2005), blaming ‘unacceptable failures’ in the state bureaucracy
for his government’s troubles in its third term (Cole 2005). In June 2005 he complained that the
poor performance of the Queensland public service was putting the future of his government at
14 This comprises all heads of policy in Queensland government departments and agencies. Established in early
2005, it meets six-monthly. The Policy Officers network comprises the next level of policy staff
15 The tendency for The Courier-Mail to style itself as the state’s unofficial Opposition has contributed to its poor
relationship with the Beattie government. The Premier has accused the newspaper of running a campaign against
the government over the hospitals crisis, noting that ‘some sections of the media have not been prepared to report
this [the hospitals issue] accurately, and accusing journalists of ‘disgraceful and lazy’ reporting (see, for example,
ABC News, 22 September 2005; The Courier-Mail, 22 September 2005).
Working draft: 14 May 2007 16
risk. He foreshadowed an overhaul of some departments, warning senior bureaucrats he
expected them to ‘lift their game’ (Cole 2005).16 Walker (2005) argues the problems of
Queensland’s public sector are systemic – attributable to a loss of professional skills and
competence, a failure to measure the quality of outcomes, and a developing reputation as ‘an
employer of last resort’. Though he retains a significant parliamentary majority, the crises and
two recent by-election losses have shaken the government’s confidence.17 In each situation the
Premier has vowed to ‘fix’ the problems that have been identified, creating additional significant
demands for monitoring and oversight and, in the case of the health system, reforms due to be
announced in late September 2005. These situations have also prompted a search for levers to
help prevent similar problems in the future.
The difficulties of the third term have had inevitable consequences for Policy Division, including
staff of the Implementation Unit. In addition to their normal work, staff are involved in a variety
of crisis management activities. With their knowledge and experience of agencies and issues,
and their less direct links to the Cabinet process, Implementation Unit staff provide additional
organisational capacity, highlighting the benefits but also the potential risks of locating the Unit
within Policy Division. In August 2005, head of Policy Division, Deputy Director-General, Uschi
Schreiber, was appointed Director-General of the troubled Queensland Health. A strong
proponent of the Implementation Unit, and well trusted by the Premier, her departure may have
implications for the future directions of the Unit.
Promoting awareness of implementation risks and challenges will require the Unit develop a
higher profile than has thus far been the case. DPC leaders are conscious that it is not well
recognised and that its role is not well understood outside the central agencies. Building its
profile and developing its education, outreach and capacity-building activities are important
priorities for the consolidation phase. This will require closer relationships with agencies and
with Treasury, now part of the Premier’s portfolio following a Cabinet reshuffle in July 2005.
The Unit is working to better integrate its policy research and reporting functions. Staff believe
there is potential for research to promote a better understanding of the underlying causes of
problems or risks, and hence to improve the effectiveness of policy interventions. As with its
oversight functions, the Unit’s approach will be developmental and iterative. Beattie’s hands-off
style and the DPC leadership’s support have enabled it to do and try different things. In the
16 In July 2005, the two most senior executives of Queensland Health were sacked along with their Minister.
17 In August 2005 the government lost the two formerly safe seats of Redcliffe and Chatsworth in by-elections with
swings against it of 8 and 14 per cent respectively (The Australian, 22 August 2005).
Working draft: 14 May 2007 17
unique context of the Queensland public sector, the Unit has no option but to experiment and
evolve arrangements that suit and will be accepted across government. As DPC officials note:
There is no handbook for doing this…We’re working with the stock we have. We’re doing what
we can (Bureaucrat E).
We really are forging new ground (Bureaucrat A).
One possible future direction intended to provide strategic capacity is to broaden the Unit’s
remit towards an emphasis on programmatic implementation and review. An option might be,
for example, to dedicate Implementation Unit staff, in collaboration with agencies, to examine
more closely issues or risks identified through regular reporting processes. An ‘Assessment
Review’ of the Child Safety department’s progress with implementing the ‘blueprint’ for reform
of Queensland’s child protection system, by a team of officials from Policy Division, Treasury
and the Department of Child Safety in mid-2005, is an exemplar of how this might develop. A
pre-emptive review in anticipation of the requirement to report to the Crime and Misconduct
Commission in January 2006, its aim was to evaluate progress towards implementing the
recommendations, and to highlight matters requiring elevation, or central agency action to
address blockages or delays. If the Unit receives the Premier’s imprimatur to go down this path,
a key challenge will be to ensure reviews are conducted in ways that build capacity and enlist
Respondents to this study, including from line agencies, are in broad agreement about the
need for strong central agency leadership and direction to build a sustained focus on
implementation and risk management across the Queensland public sector. As it evolves
beyond oversight towards a more strategic focus, the Implementation Unit has a potentially
important role to play in this agenda.
Working draft: 14 May 2007 18
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