CIPS walks into a political and procurement row in Queensland, Australia

So David Smith, Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply (CIPS) President is out in Australia at the moment. Amongst other things, he was there to do the honours at the CIPS Australasia Professional Procurement Award ceremony in Melbourne last week.  But matters in Australian public sector procurement have got interesting recently, and Smith got caught up in the excitement.

Evelyn Jelliffe

Evelyn Jelliffe, the Chief Procurement Officer for the Queensland Government, left her job after being offered what was effectively a demotion to Head of Procurement Policy. This followed a change in political power in March this year, when the Liberal National Party took power from the Labor Party, who were attempting to win a 9th consecutive general election.

A new procurement head, Mary Goodwin, has been appointed.  And that appointment has stirred up the controversy further, as it appears to have been made without open competition and with a great deal of haste, leading to accusations of political interference and worse in the Australian press. A Minister claimed that there just weren’t many suitable candidates around, so there was no point advertising – strange, when a recent report highlighted the number of senior procurement executives in Australia actually looking for work!

What then hit the headlines was Jelliffe receiving the top CIPS award at the recent ceremony, which highlighted the savings she has made for the Queensland government during her period of service. Here is the Brisbane Times:

The Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply Australasia… has since named Ms Jelliffe as the winner of its annual Leadership Award. CIPS president David Smith said Ms Jelliffe had helped build a reputation for her group as the pre-eminent public sector procurement team in the region.

“Over a period of seven years her leadership generated over $1.7 billion in savings for the people of Queensland,” Mr Smith said, according to his speaking notes. “Sadly she left her role at the Queensland Government Chief Procurement Office only one week ago – a topic covered in the press I believe. But that in absolutely, no way diminishes her achievements ... it only serves to frame them.”

Craig Lardner

We spoke to Craig Lardner, one of Australia’s most respected procurement leaders, who  worked in the UK as global CPO for the BOC Group before returning to his native Australia, where (after another CPO role) he is now a procurement adviser to leading organisations – and heavily involved with CIPS himself. Here’s his view:

“Evelyn is an absolute achiever – her record speaks for itself and she’s made a great contribution to the state Government. From what I’ve seen, Queensland probably has the best state procurement function and performance across Australia. I hope they can retain her fine work and build on it through the new appointment - her shoes will be hard to fill but her replacement has a great foundation to build on”. 

My immediate thought – and this was picked up by some of the newspaper reporting – was whether there is a competence framework for this role, and if so, against which element might Jelliffe have fallen short? That’s a very good question, because the general professional view from the likes of CIPS seems to suggest that objective performance reasons are unlikely to account for Jelliffe’s removal.

The second possibility then is that there are political motives here. Was she stopping the politicians doing things they wanted to? Asking difficult questions? Or seen as not politically aligned in the right manner with the people running things?

But there is also a more subtle option. It may not be overt politics, but it could be that, as a woman of strong principles and character, Jelliffe was just a bit too “difficult” or challenging for the new political leadership. That may not be because they’re wanting to do anything dodgy – it may be just that they don’t really “get” procurement, or the individual who ran it, and want a more compliant, easy to manage character in charge. That’s quite possible and I can think of a few people who have come up against this factor in their careers.

Anyway, it is also tough on Mary Goodwin, the lady who is replacing Jelliffe. I hear good reports of her capability too, although she hasn’t held such a high profile, number one role like this before in her previous procurement career. She’s clearly got a lot to live up to, so let’s hope she gets the support she will need to develop into the role, from both her civil service and political bosses, and senior stakeholders. None of this situation is of her making, so good luck to her and we wish her well.

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First Voice

  1. Nev Parker:

    Newman obtained my vote under false pretenses, The Labor Party were on the nose, but this bloke comes across as an arrogant little twit.
    95% of Military people who go onto Political office turn out to be failures in this 2nd profession

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