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Talent, experience and political baggage aplenty – meet our next top bureaucrat (maybe)

Mike Kaiser is doing all the right things to ascend to the most senior job in the state’s public service, director-general of the Premier and Cabinet. But it won’t all be smooth sailing, writes David Fagan

Feb 27, 2023, updated Feb 28, 2023
Mike Kaiser at a recent property industry function. (Image: LinkedIn)

Mike Kaiser at a recent property industry function. (Image: LinkedIn)

Few, if any, public service heads have risen as meteorically through Queensland’s ranks as Mike Kaiser who is on a clear path to be head of the Queensland bureaucracy by year’s end.

Kaiser, using skills well developed through political campaigning, is on an unabashed mission to put himself centre stage for the state’s top administrative role when the current Director-General of Premier and Cabinet, Rachel Hunter, stands aside – most likely this year.

He is currently the head of the Deputy Premier’s department of State Development, Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning, was briefly head of the Resources Department and has recently been appointed Co-ordinator-General. Not bad for a public servant who only joined the bureaucracy two years ago.

But Mike Kaiser is no typical public servant. He came into the Energy Department after six years of consulting to government through KPMG, working in the executive of the National Broadband Network and serving as chief of staff to not one, but two, premiers of different states – Anna Bligh in Queensland and Morris Iemma in New South Wales.

But the roles that will attract attention – and already draw out the detractors – are his lengthy employment in the state branch of the Labor Party, finally as state secretary, and then his brief tenure as a Labor MP before falling foul of Peter Beattie in a pre selection scandal that forced him out of parliament.

There’s no saying someone with a political past can’t later join and rise through the public service but Kaiser, if he becomes as widely expected head of DPC will have more political pedigree than anyone who has preceded him. The only close comparison is the former Liberal Party president and state MP Michael Caltibiano who was hired by Campbell Newman to run Transport before having his contract cut short.

Kaiser is by far the most visible of the state’s senior public servants. Most days he’s posting on social media (with emojis) about some aspect of his very broad portfolio or his general thoughts about the nobility of public service. On Sunday night, it was a pretty picture on LinkedIn, showcasing a Brisbane sunset and his personal joy at being part of the building program ahead for the 2032 Games. Last week, it was a serious question he outsourced to the LinkedIn community about what the obstacles were to building medium-density housing which he believed was much in need.

The Kaiser posts are usually accompanied by responses from public servants or government contractors, welcoming his fresh approach and trumpeting his leadership. That’s what happens when someone fills a void.

Those who have worked with Kaiser over the years are full of praise for his ability to synthesise a difficult issue and find his way through a problem. Just the skill needed at the top of the state’s public service where there are a lot of problems to fathom – water security, energy transformation, public service reform, reconciliation, regional development, the unresolved casino scandals, youth crime, domestic violence response, debt reduction and, oh yes, the Games are just a few that come to mind.

But it’s unlikely the Opposition will see this talent. Kaiser had a substantial tickle-up from the Coalition Bovver Boy, Jarrod Bleije, in budget estimates last year. It will be even more bruising if he keeps rising through the ranks.

Still on the horizon is the Coaldrake Report which the Premier has promised to implement “lock, stock and barrel”. That report includes the recommendation that D-Gs be appointed for five-year terms, an enticement to ensure the appointees are seen to be above politics and can traverse governments of different colours.

If Kaiser lands the top job, it will be in his interests, the interests of the government’s integrity and in the interests of a Coalition he might end up serving that he be appointed by a bipartisan process. And that would include opening up the job to all comers.

I understand the government is now intending to automatically spill every head of department job as contracts expire, a step that would be destabilising for the public service but have the effect I advocated in this column a few weeks ago of putting everyone on notice to lift their games.

In an open contest, Kaiser would be a strong contender but he, unfortunately, will have to leap over his brief tenure as an elected politician, a position he omits from his substantial LinkedIn profile but won’t be missed by those he’s battled since his days in student politics.

(Author’s note: Mike Kaiser updated his LinkedIn portfolio after this article was first published to include his short parliamentary career, telling his followers he had first created it when the emotion of leaving parliament was raw and his personal disappointment was “palpable”.

“I can honestly say I’m glad what happened happened. I’ve had a richer, more fulfilling and more varied career than I ever would have had I stayed in parliament. So I’ve fixed the profile. It was hardly an attempt to hide it.”)

 

 

 

 

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