Mal Grierson

Interviewed by
Roger Scott & Peter Spearritt
Oct 19 2009
Mal Grierson
Time Summary Keywords
00:00:10 Mal Grierson explains his early career and education. He started work in the Irrigation Commission and studied part time. Within eight years he obtained an economics degree followed by a masters in public administration from the University of Queensland.
00:01:01 Mal Grierson details his reasons for joining the public service. Upon joining the public service he realised that Grade 10 was not enough and he needed further education. He describes his first job in the Queensland public service in the Irrigation and Water Supply Commission and the structure that junior employees worked through in their early years. He left to go into the Treasury computer branch as a computer programmer where he worked his way up through various roles until the early 1980s. He recalls how he taught Glenn Poole, now the auditor general, how to do the accounts before he left Irrigation. 
00:03:51 Mal Grierson states that he became head of science and technology in the early 1980s where he remained until the Goss Government came to power in 1989. He notes the evolution of the division from a small computer branch for the Treasury to being in charge of all IT services for Queensland public service departments. He comments on the approach to the computer revolution by the Queensland government, in particular its early placement in the Treasury Department. He recalls a conversation with Ken Pope, the head of the department regarding this issue. Pope, in turn, noted the vision of Leo Hielscher who believed in the change that would be brought about by computer electronic data processing and that this would be an expense for the public service. He notes his own excitement, and feelings of pioneering, in working with this technology. IT, Leo Hielscher
00:06:58 Mal Grierson discusses the areas where the department thought that computers would be useful: financial and records management. What they did not envisage was the telecommunications aspects that would transform IT. He notes the two categories of people that were recruited into IT by the Queensland Government: young bright people who had done well on aptitude tests but the supervisors were drawn primarily from auditor general's staff. IT
00:10:48 Mal Grierson describes the mixed reactions around the public sector towards computer technology introductions. He discusses the regimented system of promotions that the public service worked under in his early years, however, computer skills posed a challenge to this structure. IT, merit based promotion
00:13:51 Mal Grierson details the challenge that education in computer technologies posed to the typical promotion structure of the public service and how the Public Service Board introduced an annual review process. He notes that after obtaining his economics degree he gained a higher promotion. To him this showed a trend towards valuing the individual skills of employees in the public sector. IT, merit based promotion, Public Service Board
00:17:06 Mal Grierson discusses the employment prospects at the time when computer technology was being taken up into many industries. He notes the number of recruitment campaigns from various companies including the federal government. He reflects on these experiences as a highly skilled young public servant and how that influenced his approach to maintaining staff as a Director General or Deputy Director General. He notes the importance of giving young employees opportunities for promotion.  IT, Leo Hielscher, merit based promotion
00:20:20 Mal Grierson describes his appointment as the head of the Treasury Electronic Data Processing (EDP)  branch, now known as CITEC, by Leo Hielscher without consulting his minister. He outlines the interface between the public service and political process, and notes that at the time IT was a very specialised field that few in cabinet would have knowledge of. He discusses the backgrounds of those in cabinet and their relationship to his field of expertise. IT, Leo Hielscher, relationship with ministers
00:22:53 Mal Grierson discusses the evolution of the Treasury EDP branch to becoming CITEC. He notes the work of Ken Pope who was brought out in the late 1950s from the UK to help the introduction of computers into the public service. He notes that at the time of his appointment to the State Government Computer Centre it was Leo Hielscher who noticed the cost of computers to government. He notes that by the 1970s it was realised that computers were going to be significant for the public service and Treasury took control of it. He notes that it remained part of Treasury until just before the Goss era. IT, Leo Hielscher
00:26:10 Mal Grierson describes the transition from working at CITEC to becoming a Deputy Director General. He notes that CITEC was largely removed from many other government departments and that he rarely met with his boss, the Deputy Treasurer; and neither did he meet ministers in this time. He discusses working with Justice Minister Bill Knox and John Greenwood Minister for Survey and Evaluation. He notes that computer technology was not high on Joh Bjelke-Petersen's political agenda. Bill Knox, IT, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, John Greenwood, relationship with ministers
00:29:53 Mal Grierson discusses the IT services that grew in individual departments, noting that the people were from departments but the equipment was from CITEC. He notes the infrastructure that was held at the CITEC offices, including the first State Library of Queensland computer. He notes that once computers became smaller then the infrastructure began to reside with the individual departments. IT
00:31:15 Mal Grierson discusses the energy for reform that came in with the Goss Government. He notes that reform focused on rationalising departments. In this time an Administrative Services Department was created, and included CITEC, and Ross Dunning became the Director General. In this restructuring he notes that all positions required employees to reapply for them, in particular many executive positions. He became Deputy Director General Works in 1990, this appeared a strange choice considering he was more familiar with services. He was chosen for the position to encourage change. Administrative Services, Goss Government 1989-96, Ross Dunning
00:34:46 Mal Grierson details the possible reasons for his being chosen as responsible for Works. He labels Erik Finger as one of the figures influential in the choice, as well as Ross Dunning. He notes that this restructuring was a very dramatic time.  Administrative Services, Erik Finger, Ross Dunning, Works
00:39:38 Mal Grierson describes the heightened exposure to ministers in his role in the Administrative Services Department. And his relationship with ministers. Administrative Services, relationship with ministers
00:42:36 Mal Grierson describes himself as both a centralist and an old Westminster style public servant. He describes how he styles his relationship with ministers. He notes that there was a politicisation of the public service post-Goss. He notes that this politicisation of public sector has happened throughout Australia and the world. Beattie Government 1998-2007, Borbidge Government 1996-98, Goss Government 1989-96
00:46:49 Mal Grierson details the transition from Goss to Borbidge to Beattie. He notes that the Borbidge win appeared as a surprise. He also got the impression that machinery around Borbidge was not ready to take government. In his view, Borbidge then turned to the people he knew had experience, such as Peter Ellis and Kevin Davies. He notes that the return of these senior public servants was quite surprising to many people in the public service. He notes the removal of Under Treasurer Gerard Bradley and many other removals that caused dismay in the public service. Beattie Government 1998-2007, Borbidge Government 1996-98, Gerard Bradley, Goss Government 1989-96, Peter Ellis
00:50:57 Mal Grierson discusses his relationship with the ministers for Public Works under the Borbidge Government, Ray Connor and David Watson and discusses other ministers including Ron McLean and John Greenwood. Borbidge Government 1996-98, John Greenwood, relationship with ministers, Ron McLean
00:57:00 Mal Grierson discusses his relationship with ministers including Tom Burns, Glen Milliner and Rob Schwarten. Glen Milliner, relationship with ministers, Robert Schwarten, Tom Burns
01:01:42 Mal Grierson notes the issues involved with his contract being with the premier not with the minister. For him this was an issue that forced a necessary relationship and loyalty to the premier. relationship with ministers
01:02:58 Mal Grierson discusses ministerial staff and the relationship this creates with the public service.  Goss Government 1989-96, ministerial staff
01:07:14 Mal Grierson discusses the time it took to rebuild the knowledge base in the public service after the sweeping changes that the Goss Government enacted. He describes the end of the Goss era and the polarised relationship that occurred between the Premier and the public service. He contrasts Goss with the style of Peter Beattie.  Goss Government 1989-96, Peter Beattie
01:12:07 Mal Grierson comments on the role and different styles of styles of Kevin Rudd and Glyn Davis.  Glyn Davis, Kevin Rudd, Lawrence Springborg, Public Sector Management Commission
01:14:59 Mal Grierson describes the Smart State strategy. He notes the influence of Peter Coaldrake and Glyn Davis, both out of the university system, upon the Beattie strategy. He describes the academic sector and its influence in securing funding from governments.  Anna Bligh, Glyn Davis, Peter Coaldrake, research, Smart State, universities
01:21:02 Mal Grierson reflects on his time in the public service noting the most important decision he was involved with.  IT
01:24:15 Mal Grierson discusses his biggest regrets. Public Works
01:26:33 Mal Grierson comments on the large expenditure of the Public Works Department.  Public Works
01:30:50 Interview ends.