And the next sex discrimination commissioner is …

By David Donaldson

Tuesday February 9, 2016

Penny Wong

Senates Estimates revealed some interesting information and seen a few testy exchanges on its first couple of days back for 2016.

Sex discrimination commissioner to be announced this week

A replacement for Elizabeth Broderick is to take place this week, Attorney General George Brandis stated on Tuesday morning.

The replacement sex discrimination commissioner was decided at last night’s cabinet meeting, said the AG. The position has been open since Broderick finished in September. Brandis added that he had intended to go to cabinet with a recommended candidate in September, but that the government’s leadership spill got in the way.

He opted for an independent selection panel for the appointment including Broderick along with the head of his own department, Chris Moraitis, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet head of domestic policy Rebecca Cross, and John Sosso, the former director-general of the Queensland Department of Justice and Attorney General. Around 70 people applied. This was then whittled down to a shortlist of 23. Of those, 7 were interviewed. Human rights commissioner Gillian Triggs said she would normally be included in such a panel, but was left out.

It had been speculated former prime minister Tony Abbott’s chief of staff Peta Credlin could nab the role, though George Brandis has said she was never considered.

Wong criticises APSC’s Lloyd over Briggs affair

Senator Penny Wong questioned Australian Public Service Commissioner John Lloyd about his agency’s support for the public servant who complained about being harassed by the then-minister for cities and the built environment Jamie Briggs. Lloyd said deputy commissioner Stephanie Foster had phoned the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to check the woman was being looked after, as it was the responsibility of the head of the department to manage such issues.

Were the accusation made against a public servant, it would have been within the APSC’s remit, but not so with a minister, Lloyd argued. He said he believed DFAT had handled the issue “quite capably”. “It was done on a confidential basis, in a timely manner,” he said.

Despite the argument it was outside the APSC’s jurisdiction under the Public Service Act 1999, Wong was unmoved. “Good words, but you haven’t done anything,” she said. “I do wonder what your job is Mr Lloyd. … A public servant gets treated really badly, and the public service commissioner does nothing, except get his secretary to make a phone call.”

Foster added that the Commission was not aware of the issue before it was made public by the media.

Bernardi issues Parliamentary Services rebuke

Senator Cory Bernardi yesterday accused a senior executive from the Department of Parliamentary Services of deliberately misleading the Senate Finance and Public Administration Committee last year.

In the cross-hairs was the assistant secretary in charge of the DPS security branch, Erin Noordeloos, for attempts to explain how a woman with no Parliament House security pass drove into a secure car park by “tailgating” another vehicle and made it through a security checkpoint. She was not present at the hearing as she was on sick leave.

“To come in here and try to snowball us … is simply outrageous,” Bernardi said, appearing to blame Noordeloos for what he saw as inconsistent and evasive responses to his questions about the incident over four months last year.

It was “entirely unacceptable” that it took from May, when Bernardi initially asked about the incident in a hearing, until September to eventually extract “even a semblance of the truth” from the department, the government senator said. Details of the story changed as increasingly detailed answers were provided to the committee’s inquiries on the matter, he said.

Breastfeeding rights a ‘given’ in APS

The APSC has expanded on its response to concerns the government is seeking to remove breastfeeding protections in workplace agreements and what effect this might have on women in the workplace.

Deputy Australian Public Service Commissioner Stephanie Foster said that although putting entitlements in a workplace agreement and in an agency policy were legally different, in practice the effect was basically the same.

“Putting something in an agreement obviously has a status that a policy doesn’t have,” she admitted. “But the practical application is one which I think in a real context, what’s actually happening in the workplace, is that agencies are supporting women returning from leave, they are making facilities available.”

Lloyd said there was no APS-wide breastfeeding policy “because it’s such a widely recognised right, and I don’t think anybody in the public service management would say ‘we’re going to deny people the right to breastfeed’. It’s one of those givens I think across the public service. We’ve certainly had, to my knowledge, no complaints.”

The APSC’s director of remuneration policy Marco Spaccavento said that only 29% of the 115 APS enterprise bargaining agreements had specific measures relating to breastfeeding.

A privatised Medicare?

Senators will be sharpening their tools of inquisition in preparation for tomorrow’s appearance of the Health portfolio at Estimates, amid reports the government is eyeing the privatisation of Medicare.

War gaming for the outsourcing of the cherished national institution is “well-advanced” and is planned to be unveiled in Scott Morrison’s first budget as Treasurer in May, reports The West Australian:

“The payment system task force run by bureaucrat John Cahill is believed to have proposed a “proof of concept” trial next year. It would require companies being selected this year.

“Australia Post, eftpos providers, Telstra and the big banks are showing interest given they have online payment and supply structures.

“… Within a fortnight, accountants Ernst & Young, KPMG, PricewaterhouseCoopers, McKinsey, Deloitte and Boston Consulting will lodge bids to design the business case for the potential privatisation.”

In October 2014 the federal government published a call for private sector expressions of interest to run the Medicare, Pharmaceutical Benefit Schemes and Department of Veterans’ Affairs payments systems. The Department of Health ad said Medicare and PBS claims involve the annual movement of $29 billion as a result of 600 million individual transactions.

Pezzullo ‘overstepped the line’

The mutual suspicion between the Department of Immigration and Border Protection and media outlets continues, with a Fairfax comment piece today accusing secretary Mike Pezzullo of having “clearly overstepped his own role as an independent public official” over comments made at Estimates yesterday.

Taking aim at “advocacy parading as journalism”, Pezzullo complained that media reporting on asylum seeker issues was often inaccurate. He added:

“No amount of moral lecturing from those who seem unable to comprehend the negative consequences of an open borders policy will bring forth those solutions. There is no compassion in giving people false hope.”

“Yielding to emotional gestures in this area of public administration simply reduces the margin for discretionary action which is able to be employed by those people who are actually charged with dealing with the problem.”

Fairfax hit back, arguing that “while he accuses media of straying into activism, he has clearly overstepped his own role as an independent public official, affecting the tone of a muscular protagonist in a hotly contested political debate.”

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