WA department at centre of corruption scandal faces potential job cuts

By Shannon Jenkins

Tuesday October 13, 2020

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The digital strategy aims to transform the way government services are delivered to the community. (Image: Adobe/Adwo)

A Western Australian bureaucrat and the public sector union have raised concerns over potential cuts to the Department of Communities, with the union arguing job losses would undermine the state government’s plan for a jobs-led economic recovery.

Last year the department was at the centre of what may have been the most serious instance of public sector corruption in Australia, prompting immediate government reforms.

The WA government recently called for an independently chaired functional review of the department’s non-frontline operations after it identified “potential improvements” to the department’s budget sustainability model, according to Communities director general Michelle Andrews.

She told The Mandarin that frontline operations would not be reviewed and services to the WA community would not be impacted.

“The objectives of the functional review are jointly focussed on current and forecast budget settings, and a review of the functions Communities delivers to ensure they meet their statutory requirements and the needs of stakeholders,” she said.

“The Department of Communities is committed to responsibly managing its budget, to ensure services delivered to the community are effective and efficient.”

However, the department has advised the WA Community and Public Sector Union/Civil Service Association that “severances are likely”, according to branch secretary Rikki Hendon.

“That obviously has a huge impact not only on services but on people who work in those services, on their livelihoods and families and the communities they live and work in,” she said.

The department has reportedly been attempting to rectify alleged overspending, which the union said has been blamed on former assistant director general Paul Whyte’s “failure” to properly implement machinery of government changes from 2017.

Whyte recently pleaded guilty to 530 charges after a 2019 investigation by the WA Police Force and the Corruption and Crime Commission found he and and physiotherapist Jacob Anthonisz had allegedly stolen $22 million in public funds. Last year CCC chief executive Ray Warnes described the scandal as potentially “the most serious case of public sector corruption in Australia”.

Read more: Senior public servant stole up to $25m, watchdog alleges

Communities employee and CPSU/CSA delegate Rod Schoneveld said he has been worried about how the potential cuts might impact his friends, family, and the wider community, noting that his team supports front-line staff “to provide services to the most vulnerable members of our WA community”.

“I make these comments in a personal capacity — my statements are not to be perceived as official comments on behalf of any government department,” he said.

“My team works hard so front-line staff are safe and secure at work, are located in readily accessible offices, have safe and well-maintained vehicles and the necessary built-form infrastructure to bring services to those most in need.

“Should I be made redundant at 60 years of age, I’m sure it will be difficult for me to compete with people half my age when there are some 13 unemployed people for every job vacancy, the vast majority of them much younger than me.”

Hendon argued that while the state government’s budget, unveiled last week, was “very much focused on a jobs-led recovery”, it did not invest in public sector jobs.

“Fundamentally, as a government, you can’t lead a ‘jobs-led recovery’ while cutting jobs. Public sector workers are also people in our community who will not have money to spend in local businesses,” she said.

The union has also expressed concern over the Department of Communities’ transparency and consultation processes during the functional review. It noted that 13 employees were recently told they needed to move to Development WA and “would be required to resign their employment at the department or become surplus to requirements”.

Andrews said the review process has begun, and updates would be provided as part of the 2020-21 mid-year review and 2021-22 budget process.

Read more: Major corruption scandal sparks WA public sector reform


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