August 09, 2012 | Graham

Fine cuts – tell me about public service overmanning or featherbedding

This article is about a staff of 42 that managed to handle just 6 cases in a year. It is also the first in what I hope will be a series of articles looking at specific areas where the Queensland public service could be trimmed without any loss of services.

The aim is to base the articles on first hand information. So if you have any examples of public service overmanning or feather-bedding send me the details via this survey link.

The department in question is the adoption agency, and the raw figures are a staff of 42 and only 6 adoptions. In my organisation that would be managed by a staff of less than one.

Which leaves me wondering what the other 41+ staff are doing. They have a page on the Community Services Website and it does have a very comprehensive list of publications, but even if they write every publication from scratch every year, I can still only see employment for another half a person at most.

Perhaps someone in the department has a justification for these numbers.


Posted by Graham at 6:25 am | Comments (26) |
Filed under: Uncategorized


  1. So what IS “your company” that could do it with a staff of one? You have experience in adoption?
    Tell me, how does adoption work? Does the department just hand out kids to whomever asks or are there things like background checks, medical history checks, psychological sessions and tests, counselling, financial checks, criminal checks. location checks?

    Sorry but you just seem to be yet another person talking without any knowledge at all. You spout soundbites, platitudes and use emotive words to further your biased agenda.

    In short, you have Zero Credibility.

    Comment by Stephen — August 9, 2012 @ 7:19 am

  2. Graham, this is not one of your better pieces. As observed by Stephen, you have done nothing to describe what it is these staff do, and the simple metric of “6 cases” is a meaningless value.

    Another factor that you are possibly overlooking is that working for a publicly elected Minister means that one mistake can lead to severe difficulty for the Minister, so the public sector probably expends a large proportion of it’s resources trying to avoid embarrassing the boss. In contrast your company makes a mistake and everyone puts it down to the pressure of time, it’s hard out here in the real world, we are doing our best against overwhelming odds ta da ta da … No such luxury for the pollies and their departments; they are expected by media commentators and the public to be totally on top of everything because they have unlimited staff resources, don’t they?

    One badly placed adoption case could result in extreme harm to the child which none of us would find acceptable. And you would possibly join the feeding frenzy on the Minister. When you criticise the system, keep in mind that you and the other commentators are part of it the reason why it is the way it is.

    So could you try a little harder? Actually dig into what makes up the workload of the case managers who place these adoptees, and so on? You probably need to spend a few days in that group of people to understand their situation. It took you five minutes to write your critique for what should have taken you 30-50 hours of investigation and the poor result in your piece is fairly harmless, but I’m glad for the children’s sake you aren’t placing adoptees in homes.

    Comment by Rick — August 9, 2012 @ 8:37 am

  3. Looks like you’ve hit a nerve there Graham. Sounds like Stephen must work there, & still can only come up with a bit of waffle to justify the existence of these people.

    After reading Ricks post may I suggest that the 41 excess bureaucrats be transferred to the Child protection agency. That is one agency that needs an injection of infallible bureaucrats, who never make a mistake.

    Of course they should all be transferred to “Windorah westward” areas, where help is most needed. After all they will need some real experience of a work load, which they aren’t getting now.

    Comment by Hasbeen — August 9, 2012 @ 9:28 am

  4. Let’s do some rudimentary sums here. If the 42 people work 40 weeks a year and do 37.5 hours each week then the department clocks up 63,000 person hours a year. Divide that by 6 and you get 10,500 hours per case.

    Or put another way, 7 person years.

    I agree with Hasbeen, this post has hit a nerve. You might argue that my estimate of 250 hours per case is too skinny, but I find it impossible to believe that you could possibly support the current staffing levels on any rational basis.

    Comment by Graham — August 9, 2012 @ 10:12 am

  5. Hasbeen falls into the usual trap of the Conservative in thinking that he knows everything about everyone.. and that everyone must have some type of motive…

    Sorry to disappoint. I am a 45 year old truck driver from NSW.. I don’t know anyone who works in any industry connected with adoption services. Here or in QLD.

    I merely asked some common sense questions that should occur to any person interested in being told the truth.

    Comment by Stephen — August 9, 2012 @ 2:02 pm

  6. Another question to ponder with your “rudimentary” maths… how many adoptions did they NOT approve?

    I would assume that the failed ones still have to go through the same process? Adoption is anecdotally very hard so one could hypothesise that for every successful adoption there is up to 20 failed ones?

    See… your math, assumptions, whatever are worth three quarters of naff all.

    Do some research and THEN present your assertions.. don’t just take the lazy way out and throw mud.

    Comment by Stephen — August 9, 2012 @ 3:48 pm

  7. Stephen, you’re the one throwing mud.

    You’ve admitted your political bias in your response to Hasbeen – apparently only “Conservatives” deal in stereotypes, contra the evidence that it is a universal human tendency.

    Now you’re spraying around tendentious objections to my maths. So what do you think the rejection rate might be? 50%? 100%? Do you think it takes the same time to reject as it does to accept? Come up with some sort of alternative model that makes any sort of sense, and you might have a case.

    If there were that many reasonable applicants and that few potential adoptees, then you’d run a ballot system to reduce the number to manageable proportions. You wouldn’t squander all this time on such a small number of cases.

    Comment by Graham — August 9, 2012 @ 4:09 pm

  8. The whole adoption process is about 12 months in total, well that is initially, then there is the after care support. So while they might hold 6 cases, it means that they put in over 12 months of work to ensure that the adoption is successful. Your very article really trivialities the adoption process and demeans the very people who’s job is to ensure that children get adopted into loving families who will care for them for the rest of their lives.

    Comment by LisaJ — August 9, 2012 @ 4:33 pm

  9. And yes, I’ve worked on adoption cases in NSW so I speak from experience.

    Comment by LisaJ — August 9, 2012 @ 4:37 pm

  10. If it takes 42 government employees to guarantee a safe and loving home for 6 children so be it. Money well spent.

    Comment by evelynne — August 9, 2012 @ 5:54 pm

  11. Interesting Lisa. I am a mother of two adopted daughters. we had NO contact, whatsoever, with our case workers after we adopted them. All we got was some paperwork to sign after they had a paediatric assessment and before it became legal. And I haven’t heard a peep since. As an aside, my oldest daughter is now on the Federal A-G’s advisory panel for international adoption.

    Comment by Susan — August 9, 2012 @ 8:20 pm

  12. Susan, perhaps methods have changed in the interim as it appears that your adoptions were a decade or more ago?

    And Graham… sigh… where to start…. yes I’ll admit to a bias against Conservatives and one of the reasons for this is because they employ the very method you did… you attack instead of defending your position.

    You have resolutely refused to investigate your OWN claims and as such your claims are worthless. So much drab opinion and worthless yappery.

    I think my hypothesis may be closer to the truth. Not because I am a Leftie, or smarter, but basically because it is based on common sense and not just a base desire to kick to the kerb everything my opponent does.

    Comment by Stephen — August 10, 2012 @ 5:24 am

  13. Oh one last question… do we vet the people before or after the ballot?

    You didn’t really think that one through, did you?

    Succeed or fail, EVERY applicant has to be thoroughly vetted.

    Comment by Stephen — August 10, 2012 @ 5:25 am

  14. Assuming a ballot was the appropriate way of limiting, why would you have to prescreen? Qualifying as a worthy person to adopt is not the same thing as winning an Olympic medal – many people meet the criteria.

    The problem here is not that I want to “kick to the kerb everything my opponent does”, but that you appear to have a hatred for anyone who votes differently to you.

    What you attribute to “Conservatives” are actually attitudes you hold yourself – a classic case of projection.

    Or maybe you work for one of the unions. Hard to tell.

    Comment by Graham — August 10, 2012 @ 7:34 am

  15. I don’t have any direct experience of adoption but the basic point here is that everyone thinks they alone are carrying this country on their back. The less we know about what another person does in terms of productivity, the more we assume they do nothing. It’s just what we do to justify ourselves.

    From my distant youth I remember a poster in a pub that took the population of Oz and then substracted from it all the children who didn’t work, then step by step, took out all the other occupations that the author claimed did nothing, and it ended up with only two people left over doing everything. One of whom must have been the author, and the other was the reader. The author of the poster was obviously taking the piss out of him/her self and the reader who up to that point had agreed with the logic of the argument.

    My suggestion is that your original post Graham is a variation on the same theme. Had you responded to our responses with some quick breakdown of what the 42 people do and identified where the problems are (and there undoubtably are always efficiencies that can be made) your post would have been a useful contribution to public debate.

    And I think my point still stands that too many public servants are forced to waste their time trying to protect Ministers from relentless attack, much of it ill informed and trivial. More informed and constructive public debate would help reduce this waste.

    Comment by Rick — August 10, 2012 @ 8:34 am

  16. Stephen you tell us that methods have changed in adoption procedures in the last decade or so.

    Tell me mate, would that be before they ran out of any real work for most of the bureaucrats in the department, or a desperate effort to try to justify the manning.

    Mate you tell us your opinion is in no way dictated by you being a lefty, but I can’t accept that. I may believe you have some strange idea that adoption is more difficult than it is, but I doubt your position comes from there.

    My take on the lefty position is always to attempt to justify overmanning in government employment, no matter how blatantly excessive it may be. What is it about being a lefty that makes you & your brethren happy to accept waste, as long as the tax payer is paying for it.

    I can remember some absolute garbage from the unions trying to justify each tradie in the old PMG run telephone system must have a driver. He could not drive him self to a job.

    The best was perhaps in the NSW railways. Many years after the last steam train ran, & long before they became a novelty tourist attraction, the old steam workshop at Chullora was kept fully manned. Some of the staff worked over the fence at the Rocla cement works, climbing the fence after clocking on, but a mate made some use of the stupidity.

    He built from scratch, engine & all, a 500cc racing motor bike. Every part was cast & machined on site. Every bit was paid for by the tax payer with out question.

    There were a number of private businesses being run at tax payer expense within the workshop, but the unions had strike after strike to try to stop it’s closure.

    Every bit of waste & feather bedding adds a few hours, weeks & even months to the waiting time for hospital treatment & other such needed services. Just how much waste will it take for you to call enough.

    Comment by Hasbeen — August 10, 2012 @ 10:25 am

  17. Graham, I do not work for one of the Unions.. in fact I am self employed contractor and do not belong to a Union. So again your attempt to paint me as ideologically opposed to you has failed. I am opposed to your position because it is NOT backed by ANY FACTS.

    Hasbeen.. nice story but ultimately pointless. Hey here is an idea, since Graham posited this position and you implicitly back him, how about you guys go out and find some facts to back up your arguments instead of attacking everyone who questions your methodology or results?

    Graham has not even come close to proving his claim that there was waste involved in this instance. He THINKS there was, but he really has no idea.

    Interesting to note though the massive and abrupt slow down in the QLD economy that is occurring. The social dislocation of 15,000 or more people losing spending power will be felt for a generation or more. THAT is the real waste.

    Comment by Stephen — August 10, 2012 @ 2:42 pm

  18. Funny thing Stephen, I think I have given more facts to back my complaint of feather bedding & covering up of rip off practices by unionists, particularly in tax payer funded operations.

    Another one you would have heard of, if your ears were not glued shut as are those of many unionists, is the Navy auto workshop at Botany, I think it was.

    This was a civilian staffed workshop maintaining navy vehicles. As a government operation it was of course controlled by the unions.

    Someone got too greedy, & when the stuff hit the fan, 5 separate private businesses were found to be running in the place, by the staff. They would probably still be doing it, if someone had not someone started buying on the navy account, parts for vehicles not owned or used by the navy.

    There must be one good auditor in the system somewhere.

    I could quote a dozen such cases, but if you don’t see this type of thing as wrong, I’m just wasting my time. They all show how ridiculously low productivity is accepted in bureaucratic institutions funded by tax payers.

    Perhaps you could give some examples of ultra high productivity in some area of the public service to support your point of view.

    Go Campbell Newman, you beauty, go.

    Comment by Hasbeen — August 10, 2012 @ 3:31 pm

  19. What we need is a proper constitution that limits the size of the Public Service as a % of GDP.There should be no job security in the PS and they need to be made accountable for their actions.

    Unless we have financial reform and Public Service reform,these two gigantic parasites will continue to sap the life blood from our creativity and productivity.

    Comment by Ross — August 10, 2012 @ 7:07 pm

  20. What should amaze everyone about this story is that there are only 6 adoptions in a year.
    Back in the bad old days the number of adoptions would have been probably a hundred times this figure. Why is it so?

    There are still large numbers of people who are willing to adopt yet the numbers of children available for adoption has effectively dried up.

    There has been a fundamental change in attitude which has been brought about by government intervention which as led to this situation.

    I would be willing to be hat the 42 people employed in this area are spending their time culling applicants to fit with the numbers available. It takes years to successfully adopt and applicants have to go through the same hoops multiple times.

    My wife and I became involved in a case where we were referees for an applicant couple. After being put on the merry-go-round for years they were eventually rejected. When they sought the reasons for their rejection they were told that they had too many long standing friends. Stability in relationships seems to be a negative for these people.

    So the vast majority of their time will be spent in dreaming up novel reasons to reject applicants who want to provide a loving environment for a child.

    There will always be people who, for a variety of reasons, cannot raise their children. Adoption was the best social solution for this problem. Women didn’t give up their children for adoption frivolously. It must be an agonising decision to do so. Adoption is now regarded by the social worker profession as akin to child abuse and every effort is made to ensure that babies stay with their mothers no matter what the circumstances. Children available for adoption are virtually limited to those with a disability.

    This situation has developed into a serious social crisis over the last 30 years. Long term welfare dependency has become endemic and the incidence of serious child abuse was exploded. The welfare of children has taken a back seat.

    Comment by Mike Murphy — August 10, 2012 @ 7:11 pm

  21. Yawn. Hasbeen has taken this debate the way all debate is taken by the nouveau Conservative.

    I’m out. Thankfully the tide is turning and facts are again being demanded. The day of the bluster and bully is numbered.

    Comment by Stephen — August 10, 2012 @ 11:26 pm

  22. Undoubtedly why you are retiring Stephen. The electorate does seem to be saying that they’ve had enough of governments that run on public relations and political advantage rather than facts. Let’s hope their replacements take note and act accordingly.

    Comment by Graham — August 11, 2012 @ 8:03 am

  23. I guess Stephen, that means you could not find even a single instance of high productivity in a public service anywhere to support your argument.

    I’m not surprised of course.

    Comment by Hasbeen — August 11, 2012 @ 10:07 am

  24. My guess is that that they had a staff of 41 when there were a lot more adoptions and have retained the same number now that the case load has dropped.

    Comment by Outrider — August 18, 2012 @ 9:08 am

  25. I’m sure you’re right Outrider, & that says it all about the public service mentality.

    No one is interested in working efficiently. Just like that steam train workshop fully manned, where there were no more steam trains to maintain, middle management are so frightened of upsetting the unions, that they waste OUR MONEY, as if there is no tomorrow.

    A new system, restricting any employment in the public service to a maximum of 5 years, with a period of 3 years before ex staff could be re-employed as staff, on contract, or as “advisers” would give members of the PS experience of private industry, & may start to get some ethics into the organisation, something it is sadly lacking now.

    Comment by Hasbeen — August 18, 2012 @ 11:10 am

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