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The backroom reshuffle that may reshape our government

Insights

As the smoke clears from the Queensland state election battle, the enormous challenges that lay ahead of the government over this four-year term are looming into view fast.  A fresh ministry – and a refreshed public service – is vital.

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Queensland’s senior bureaucrats will rely less and less on the grace and favour of their ministerial bosses to keep their jobs. Policy results will dictate their fate.

Speculation has already begun about who will be in and who will be out among the state’s directors-general. This is the other reshuffle and, for some, it will be more keenly watched in the coming days than who gets what ministry in the new Cabinet.

The rumours swirling around 1 William St this week suggest a big shake-up of the senior ranks of the public service.

However, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s office has described speculation about the imminent exit of Department of the Premier and Cabinet director-general Dave Stewart as “bunkum”.

While he signed a new three-year contract earlier this year, that is unlikely to discourage the gossips around town. The business of government has a dominant role in Queensland’s economy and has become central to the fortunes of public and private sector alike.

Questions as to who gets to head big spending departments are of crucial importance to those businesses wanting an edge over their competitors.

Another in the ranks of Queensland’s mandarins whose future is being debated is Under Treasurer Rachel Hunter. In some ways, hers is the most crucial role in government as it will involve keeping a steady hand on the economic rudder when the state has never seen more danger and uncertainty outside of wartime.

Hunter is one of Queensland’s most experienced public servants yet she is but the latest of a string of under treasurers to have been appointed since the departure of long-term treasury chief Gerard Bradley eight years ago.

But such is Hunter’s experience and versatility that the premier may decide she is needed elsewhere in the government. The hot tip for her possible replacement is her deputy Leon Allen, a long time bank executive and Treasury bureaucrat who, according to Opposition claims in Parliament, missed out on the role when former Treasurer Jackie Trad appointed her preference, Frankie Carroll, last year.

While this may all resemble idle palace intrigue, the performances of this incoming crop of directors-general could be a deciding factor in how well Queensland overcomes the current crisis.

While the response to the COVID-19 pandemic remains front and centre of the re-elected government’s policy considerations, it is by no means the only threat to the state’s economic and social well-being.

Coal is falling out of favour as an energy source for some of Queensland biggest export customers as pressure mounts for reductions in emissions, so the state will need to find other means of driving the economy.

Pre-pandemic there were worrying signs the state economy was in trouble and whatever ailed it then has been compounded by COVID.

Whoever does prevail among this contest of the vest and brightest in Queensland’s public service, all will know that the business of government never gets easier.

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