National policy implementation in Queensland: the politics of National Competition Policy in the 1990s

Heyward, Brett (2004) National policy implementation in Queensland: the politics of National Competition Policy in the 1990s. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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Abstract

This is a thesis that focuses on the implementation of a national policy platform – the National Competition Policy – by the Queensland Government. NCP involved difficult government decisions, and the policy often became regarded – and often wrongly - as epitomising a broad range of unpalatable and controversial socio-economic changes. In this context, this thesis proposes an analysis of how implementation succeeded, almost against the odds. The overall argument is that a broad-ranging, national policy, derived from a collaborative forum of Australian heads of government, and overseen by a new intergovernmental watchdog, can be implemented successfully in a State, even during politically volatile times. The agreement on NCP was without peer or precedent. It encompassed a wide array of reform initiatives spanning a ten-year implementation horizon. It also required the coordination of all tiers of Australian government to meet agreed milestones set in the original agreement. The creation of an independent implementation watchdog in the form of the National Competition Council (NCC) was a key component of the institutional arrangements that accompanied the reform effort. NCP implementation coincided with a period of significant political volatility in Queensland, which led to leaders of major political parties adopting inaccurate rhetorical positions on NCP in public forums. As a result, the NCC and the Queensland government were brought into conflict on a regular basis. The analysis provided in this thesis shows that NCP had important structural features that served to buffer implementation from populist political attack. These features included: a symbolic union between the leaders of Australian governments, achieved through the signing of formal NCP documentation; the creation of an independent oversight body in the NCC, designed to monitor implementation and to insure against goal displacement; and the establishment of a financial incentive package tied to the achievement of key milestones. This thesis also shows that a key failing of the NCP agreement was the lack of ongoing engagement with the heads of Australian governments, acting as a collective, as the implementation process moved forward. This flaw isolated the NCC from political support and, as a consequence, left it - and NCP generally - without a visible source of political leadership. Ironically, this arrangement assisted Queensland to implement NCP as successive governments were able to distance themselves from the policy by blaming the reform effort on the NCC. The persistent parochialism of Queensland politics presents important implications for the implementation of national policies, not only NCP. If they are to be successfully implemented, policies must withstand the likely political barrage they will receive in political environments such as that which existed in Queensland in the mid to late 1990s. The key is to design mechanisms that will buffer, and in fact enable, the politics to be played out, while at the same time give shelter to the implementation effort.

Item ID: 1110
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Implementation of a national policy platform, National Competition Policy, Queensland Government, How implementation succeeded, National Competition Council, Financial incentive package tied to the achievement of key milestones, Persistent parochialism of Queensland politics, NCP, NCC
Date Deposited: 19 Oct 2006
FoR Codes: 16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1606 Political Science > 160699 Political Science not elsewhere classified @ 0%
16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1605 Policy and Administration > 160510 Public Policy @ 0%
16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1605 Policy and Administration > 160509 Public Administration @ 0%
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