06th March 2024 03:08pm
Victorian Legislative Council, Melbourne

Rachel PAYNE (South-Eastern Metropolitan) (15:08): 

I rise to speak in support of motion 313 brought on by Mr David Davis. This motion concerns the appointment of Mr Jeroen Weimar as the deputy secretary of housing implementation in the Department of Premier and Cabinet. Indeed we must agree with the opposition that this appointment rings some alarm bells.

As highlighted in this motion, there were no other candidates for the position and the appointee lacked housing experience, not to mention this all occurred in the wake of the Ombudsman’s report on the alleged politicisation of the public sector.

Alarmingly, this report found that merit-based recruitment in the public sector is often sidestepped and that there were multiple incidents of candidates being selected without an open and advertised process.

This report went on to highlight several particularly egregious examples of improper appointments and perceived politicisation.

In one such instance a former ministerial staffer was appointed to an unadvertised role as a senior executive at a department following an interview for a non-executive role in which they performed poorly. This position was newly created, it did not have listed position duties and no business case was created for it.

Further, there were no records foreshadowing its creation and a communication breakdown led to people incorrectly assuming a merit-based selection process had been cleared.

Even in the absence of ill intent and inappropriate political considerations, examples like this can understandably create perceptions of politicisation that can harm the reputation of an affected applicant and weaken public trust in government.

The public service should set the standard for employers throughout Victoria. Currently it is failing to do so. This report also found rushed and shoddy recruitment practices and an overuse of direct appointments, often involving former ministerial staffers.

We understand the need to fill vacancies quickly and the incentive at times to select from previously identified talent, but this government must recognise that even the mere perception of partisan hiring and promotion is insidious and damaging. Even if these perceptions are misguided, they fester fear, insecurity and distrust within both the public and the public service.

I am particularly concerned that this is all happening at a time of increasing distrust in government. It is imperative that the public have faith in government institutions to operate with integrity, honesty, transparency and accountability.

In their investigation the Ombudsman reported difficulties due to cabinet document restrictions and poor record keeping. In many cases this prevented the Ombudsman from being able to reach a conclusion on whether certain appointments were partisan.

This absence of proper record keeping only fuels suspicion of partisan hiring. It is our hope that this government will implement the recommendations from the Ombudsman’s report. We want to see merit-based promotion, greater political independence and clarity on where public service appointments may be made without an open selection process.

Before I conclude, I do want to raise some concerns I have on the substance of this motion, specifically the fact that clause 1 sneaks in a Commonwealth Games sledge.

Given that this motion deals with the opposition’s concerns about the politicisation of the public service, it is ironic that the motion itself has been politicised. I also want to highlight that in their report the Ombudsman noted that the people who are the subject of questionable appointments are rarely directly involved in the decision-making process.

Despite this, they must deal with the fallout of the damage to their reputation, so I hesitate to support a motion that makes such an example of an individual, but at the same time it is so important that due process is followed for the appointment of people to these often incredibly high-paying roles.

If this appointment was done in good faith and with proper processes, then this government has nothing to fear from a referral to the Ombudsman.


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