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Research Report 16: The Wisdom of ‘The Watcher’: lest we forget

This year marks 150 years since the disaster of the Battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War.  It was the mismanagement of the Crimean War that led the British government to recognise the dangers of nepotism in the public service and institute the ‘Northcote Trevelyan’ reforms that created an independent civil service exam, and a merit-based Administrative Class. The first cohort joined in the early 20th century and helped steer Britain through two world wars.  After 1945 reforming zeal led to the ‘frank and fearless’ baby being thrown out with the cleansing bathwater.

Adjunct Professor Ann Scott, biographer of Ernest Gowers, a member of this cohort, and herself a retired public servant with 20 years experience, considers what was lost in the process.  She then travels ‘fast forward’ 70 years and considers the Newman purge of the Queensland public service (of public servants who had ‘nothing to fear’) and recalls the tragedies hidden behind the articles by ‘The Watcher’ in the Brisbane Times, in 2012.

Incalculable damage has been done to the public service, those who lost their jobs, their families, and those who received the services they provided.  Frontline services need support staff.  The State needs ‘frank and fearless’ advice from policy advisers who are not risk averse.

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