Minister reveals 'personal relationship' with department head, both step aside

By Stephen Easton

October 16, 2018

The secretary of the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment, John Whittington, could face an investigation over a “personal relationship” with the minister, Sarah Courtney.

Sarah Courtney. Photo: Facebook

Premier Will Hodgman confirmed late on Tuesday morning that Courtney, who is also the Racing Minister, had told him on Sunday that the relationship had become more than professional and stepped back from the front bench while an “independent review” was conducted.

Whittington also asked to take personal leave until the various questions were resolved.

A spokesman for the premier told The Mandarin the acting secretary is Wes Ford, the deputy in charge of the state’s Environmental Protection Authority.

Dr John Whittington

Hodgman asked the secretary of his own department, Jenny Gale, to consider if an investigation was required to determine whether the DPIPWE boss had breached the State Service code of conduct, and to separately review all “relevant decisions” Courtney had made as minister.

“I have also sought independent advice from respected Commonwealth and State senior public servant Mr Damien Bugg QC, to determine whether there has been a potential breach of the Ministerial Code of Conduct,” Hodgman said.

“Following the completion of this process I will have more to say about this matter. In the interim I will be taking on Ms Courtney’s portfolio responsibilities.

Wes Ford

“This is a sensitive personal matter and I ask that the privacy of all those involved in this matter be respected.”

Whittington is a PhD-qualified scientist with expertise in water and resource management who has worked in the Tasmanian State Service for about 18 years.

He was promoted from deputy secretary level in the same department in 2014, after acting as secretary for five months. He has also worked for the CSIRO and in multiple universities around the world.

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