Text size: A A A

Biosecurity bureaucrat demonstrates the art of the parting shot

One Tasmanian public servant has done what many of his colleagues and counterparts in government offices all over the country have surely dreamed of — taken a redundancy and given the minister and his bosses an almighty serve on the way out.

Peter Cremasco says “morale is at rock bottom” at Biosecurity Tasmania, where he worked until this week, due to the way change management and downsizing has affected the newly created organisation’s work protecting Tasmania’s prized agriculture industry.

Cremasco says forming Biosecurity Tasmania as a single division within the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and the Environment by merging the former Invasive Species Branch with the Biosecurity and Product Integrity division last May was “a step in the right direction” with a lot of promise and potential. In his parting shot, however, he says the integration of the two teams has turned into “a dog’s breakfast”.

His concerns are now out there for all the world to see after he detailed them in an open letter to other public servants and the government that made its way into the Tasmanian media.

In Cremasco’s now very public assessment of the situation, staff are extremely unhappy due to:

“Ongoing uncertainty – in some cases extending out for close to 10 months – combined with a lack of closure for programs no longer running, and no credible acknowledgement of past efforts and contributions, [which] have left deep scars on individuals. Every day that passes, without this being addressed, is another day closer to the situation being irretrievable.”

He writes that he is not simply resistant to change — which he says in this case is “both very necessary and very welcome” — but takes issue with the way staff have been treated over the past year as the organisation deals with a reduction in federal funding and the government’s untargeted public service staff cuts:

“I do not exaggerate when I say that, after nearly 30 years in the public service here and interstate, this has been the most atrociously implemented organisational change I have ever encountered. If there ever was a plan, the rule book has been left to gather dust in a filing cabinet somewhere.

The last 12 months bear testimony to a litany of misinformation, inconsistencies, incompetence, mismanagement, secrecy and deceit, and some of the most appalling regard for human resources I have ever witnessed.”

Cremasco previously worked on Tasmania’s controversial Fox Eradication Program, which was wound up last year, having been plagued by accusations it was a waste of money and a solution without a problem. Despite collecting a lot of poo, the program found nary a fox living on the apple isle, and an independent review last May found no evidence they live there.

Community and Public Sector Union Tasmania secretary Tom Lynch criticised the Tasmanian government decision to reduce public servant numbers and said it was going about it through an untargeted approach, and without allowing time for effective change management to deliver efficiency gains.

Lynch said Cremasco’s letter reflected the views of many staff within Biosecurity Tasmania and other agencies.

“When you take this sort of approach, this is what you end up with out in operational land,” he told The Mandarin. He said Cremasco’s description of the agency as “a dog’s breakfast” could also apply equally to Parks and Wildlife, Child Protection and Community Corrections.

Lynch claims there are “quite a number of people” who, like Cremasco, have taken voluntary redundancies but left the public service with a bitter aftertaste. “They call it voluntary, but after reading this letter, I don’t know if I’d describe his separation as voluntary,” he said.

Of course, it is highly unusual for a reasonably senior public servant with decades of experience like Cremasco to make such a strong public criticism on their exit.

Deputy premier and Minister for Primary Industries and Water Jeremy Rockliff issued a statement in response to the controversy, but refrained from directly criticising Cremasco or questioning his credibility:

“Biosecurity Tasmania is stronger than it has ever been and our island is better protected as a result. The changes we are making provide a modern workplace that ensures staff have the support they need on the frontline.

I acknowledge change can be difficult particularly for those who have worked in an organisation for a long time. However, I am absolutely sure the changes we are making are for the better.

There have been some staff reductions across Biosecurity Tasmania, primarily due to reductions in Federal funding for providing Commonwealth biosecurity services and our commitment to remove the $1.5 million Fox Eradication Program.

I have complete faith in Biosecurity Tasmania, its managers and the wider department, and have confidence that the changes we are making will better protect our state. Our biosecurity staff have worked tirelessly and have had recent success in combating Blueberry and Myrtle Rusts incursions. For this they deserve praise, not criticism.”

Author Bio

Stephen Easton

Stephen Easton is a journalist at The Mandarin based in Canberra. He's previously reported for Canberra CityNews and worked on industry titles for The Intermedia Group.