news Beleaguered Queensland Minister for Science, IT, Innovation and the Arts Ros Bates today revealed she would quit her position effective immediately, following a string of controversies and health problems which have dogged the politician since the state’s LNP administration took power in March 2012.
Queensland Premier Campbell Newman this afternoon issued a statement noting that he had accepted Bates’ resignation “effective immediately”. Education Minister John-Paul Langbroek will act in Bates’ stead until a replacement is found.
The Premier paid tribute to Ms Bates and the contribution she had made to the portfolio. “Ros has done an outstanding job under difficult circumstances,” Newman said. “Unfortunately the demanding role has taken a toll personally and on her health, and she had decided not to risk those issues impacting on the performance of her duties. I commend her for her decision. She has done the right thing by her family, her constituents, and the government.”
Bates’ most notable action since taking the reins of the state’s extremely troubled IT operations less than 12 months ago has been to kick off a six month whole of government ICT audit from May 2012. At the time, Bates said this “first audit of its type in Queensland’s history” would leave no stone unturned to find where duplication and waste could be eliminated. It will cost $5.2 million, use 32 public servants to complete and report in October.
“Previous Labor Governments allowed information and communication technologies to grow in an unmanaged and inconsistent way across Queensland departments, and there’s no way of knowing what technology is being used where,” Bates said. “On the patchy information we do have it appears Queensland taxpayers are paying for many out-dated and duplicate systems and many more licences than are necessary. We are also sure that every Department was buying the same few products at a higher price than they would if Government-wide purchases had been made.”
Queensland has had a succession of IT disasters over the past few years that have rocked the State Government. The most public of these has been the Queensland Health payroll debacle, which resulted in thousands of public sector health workers going without pay after the department’s upgrade to a new SAP-based payroll system was botched, but many of the state’s other major IT projects have also overrun their budget and been delayed.
Bates has also kicked off a substantial project to consolidate eight “outmoded and heavily customised” payroll IT systems into one outsourced system in her department, and has flagged plans to dump the Queensland Government’s whole of government email project, with the potential to shift to a cloud-based alternative, and has presided over the first round of IT-related redundancies and cost-cutting in the Queensland public service.
However, although the Queensland Cabinet has received an interim copy of the audit, and may also have received a finalised copy, the document has not yet been released to the public. Delimiter is currently seeking to access the document under the state’s Right to Information laws.
However, Bates’ tenure as a Minister has also been dogged by controversy. Just last week the Minister sacked her chief of staff after she “lost confidence” in the executive.
The Minister was also under fire earlier this week for failing to disclose her attendance at a lunch reportedly organised by lobbying firm Barton Deakin — a lunch which may have also hosted clients with interests in Bates’ portfolio. Her health has also been in the spotlight, as well as the appointment of her son to a role in the state’s transport department and the role of a lobbying company associated with the pair. Bates was also found to have used a recycled speech from a former Labor Minister in Parliament.
I’ve never had the chance to speak personally with Bates; the Queensland Government seems to broadly regard media from south of the border to be less important than journalists working for the handful of media outlets to be found in Brisbane; namely the Courier-Mail, the Brisbane Times and the ABC.
However, I would say two things about Bates. Firstly, it seems to have been true that there were a few things going on in the Minister’s profession and personal life which raised questions about her judgement and transparency. I haven’t really gone into all the nitty-gritty in this article, but you can find plenty of other articles online detailing the issues; it feels like the Courier-Mail in particular has been more or less trying to knock Bates out of this job for a while now.
But it’s also important to look at the flip side. Bates’ passion for the IT portfolio has always been very evident, and she was obviously highly concerned with government IT project management and service delivery. This, in a state which played host to the Queensland Health payroll disaster, is a great thing, and I hope whoever fills Bates’ shoes has a similar focus and understanding of technology matters. It’s not really clear what went wrong with Bates during her tenure, but I think it’s important to remember that she did a huge lot of things right, starting with the Qld ICT audit, which will be a landmark document to guide the state’s IT operations forward.
We need more passionate, committed IT minister like Bates if the technology portfolio in governments across Australia is to get the stature it desperately needs. For today, let’s forget the Minister’s faults; and reflect that she did indeed achieve a great deal in her ten short months in office; certainly a huge amount more than the previous Labor ministers overseeing this portfolio in Queensland had been able to. Bates hasn’t turned the ship of Queensland Government IT around. But she has certainly given it the beginnings of a chart back to shore, which it desperately needed.
In addition, let’s not forget that it doesn’t appear as if Bates is the only Queensland Minister responsible for setting technology policy in the state. When Campbell Newman announced his ministry, The Queensland Government’s Cabinet site also detailed the fact that new Queensland Treasurer, Timothy Nicholls, had also been appointed Minister for Government Services, Building Industry and Information and Communication Technology of Queensland. This role would appear to see Nicholls taking overall control of the centralised governance functions (including ICT shared services) which have caused the state so many headaches over the past few years.
Image credit: Office of Ros Bates