Sunday, April 1, 2012

Pointing Fingers

Peter Beattie's friends, family, supporters and detractors are, according to Brisbane commentator Madonna King, flooding her inbox in response to her article in yesterday's Courier Mail.

Like so many Queenslanders, Ms King is looking for reasons for last week's enormous LNP victory over the Queensland Labor. I'm one of those, and I am nowhere close to knowing what happened last week. What I do know is that in attempting to apportion blame between two Premiers, Anna Bligh and Peter Beattie, is an oversimplification. To assume that all responsibility lay with the party leaders is to ignore the context in which we operate. 

Although some Labor supporters tried to convince themselves that miracles are possible, they were never going to win last week. They shouldn't have won on 2009 either. To understand Labor's appalling defeat, we have to look at the unlikely 2009 victory, and as Madonna did, peer even further back, but also closer to home. 

After compiling a pithy list of Labor crises during Beattie's years in power, Ms King writes

"Now he makes the point that he's been gone more than five years but many of the problems Bligh's government faced were of Beattie's making. And to sheet home the entire blame for the election loss to the woman he groomed to replace him is to skew history, and ignore the facts."

Madonna, you've ignored a few facts too, and I'll admit that I'm about to commit the same sin. There is a vast array of factors that contribute to a government being bollocksed in the polls.
But let's start with a little Root Cause Analysis. It's so much more useful than blame. 
The turning point that changed Anna Bligh from Labor Premier to Public Enemy was the Asset Sales decision, just a matter of weeks after winning the 2009 election.  Asset Sales had not been suggested during the campaign.  People hated the idea, and hated Premier Bligh and Treasurer Andrew Fraser for the decision. "See Queensland before its all sold off" read the bumper stickers. Voters felt betrayed, bitter, and the government's credibility was shredded.
So why move forward with such an unpopular decision? Doesn't really matter. There was a GFC that hit mining $ tourism hard, and we sold off some state owned assets to pay some bills.
Then there was the little matter of a credit rating being downgraded. More proof of a government unable to manage the economy? Read it for yourself. 

Yes, Premier Beattie should have spent more on state infrastructure. He didn't. Premier Bligh had to catch up. Really, does pointing the finger help?

And then there was Queensland Health. Just where does the buck stop? The DG? The Minister? The Premier? Doesn't matter: the ALP was in government when Jayant Patel was at Bundaberg Base Hospital. The Health Minister was Gordon Nuttall. Patel and Nuttall are both serving time.

The pain continued with the Queensland Health Payroll Debacle. Let me introduce you to an acronym many of you won't know: UAT. User Acceptance Testing. It's an incredibly important phase of IT project work, where the client tests the new developments against a comprehensive range of real-world scenarios to ensure the product is fit for purpose. UAT is often the Go/NoGo for taking the project live. Guess which step was missed in the Qld Health Payroll project. Yep: UAT. The system wasn't tested, or wasn't tested well enough. Why? My guess is that someone had a large bonus riding on a GoLive target date being met. This kind of disaster tends to reflect the culture of the organisation, yet throwing blame at the Premier misses the target and helps no-one.

To completely destroy what was left of the Qld Health morale and reputation, there was the incident where a middle manager alledgedly helped himself to a few million dollars. This was the result of a systemic failure to conduct background checks, and one alledgedly greedy criminal.

I don't think anyone is denying that Qld Health is experiencing a series of crises. Beattie's fault? Bligh's fault? Hard to say. It's a bigger question around the relationship between the government and the public service.
I'm not a fan of blame. I think it's wasted effort.
We can, and should, be looking at 'why' rather than 'who', and the ALP will be doing plenty of that. Some of the 'why' will involve the issues Madonna King listed in her article, and the ones I mentioned here. Many more are harder to pin down: the "it's time" factor, the continued movement of the ALP to the right, backwash from Federal Labor, differences between the ALP and their union's a long list of complex issues.

Peter Beattie is not blameless. Neither is Anna Bligh, Tim Fraser or anyone else from Qld Labor. Yet in this, as in most circumstances, finding people to blame has no benefit beyond making the blamer feel superior.


  1. In politics it is so easy to blame people and ignore the tectonic plates of history upon which they are standing.

  2. Thanks Arch. If the Qld ALP look for scapegoats instead of answers, they're fools.