NSW, SA lure top talent with higher executive remuneration

By David Donaldson

Monday March 14, 2016

The New South Wales government has made a bid to compete with the private sector for top employees, expanding the range of senior public sector employees allowed to take pay rises higher than the 2.5% cap that applies to lower ranks.

Senior executives working for the NSW government in transport, health and police will now be able to receive salaries in excess of their employment band if the remuneration tribunal makes a determination overriding the standard senior executive pay cap.

Top staff in other parts of the public service are already permitted to receive individualised salary determinations, but an amendment will mean that if a CEO or department head receiving above-band pay leaves their job, the government will not have to seek a new determination for their replacement, as is currently the case.

Some of the state’s top bureaucrats are already the beneficiaries of individual above-band pay rates. Department of Premier and Cabinet head Blair Comley earns $584,200 and former banker Robert Whitfield, now secretary of the Treasury, has a $550,000 per annum base pay.

Currently, the secretary band determination specifies that department heads are to be paid between $441,000 and $510,000.

And while The Daily Telegraph unsurprisingly is predicting “the ranks of Baird government fat cats are about to swell”, the government says it expects the measures will continue to be used sparingly.

The government MP introducing the bill, Ray Williams, explained that “in limited circumstances … due to competitive market pressures” it would be appropriate to give government employees higher pay than their colleagues. “We want to unlock the potential within our public sector. We want to attract the best and the brightest to work in the public service,” he said.

There are currently eight special determinations for above-band pay in NSW.

Pay rises recommended in SA

In South Australia, meanwhile, a report prepared for the Department of Premier and Cabinet recommends substantial pay rises for the state’s top public servants under “special circumstances” when their three-year contracts run out.

If the recommendation was adopted the highest pay rise would go to Department of Education and Child Development CEO Tony Harrison, whose salary would increase from $397,351 to $637,400, The Advertiser reports.

The report, prepared by consulting firm Mercer, has been used to boost the pay of five CEOs so far, on the grounds they were paid less than colleagues in other states.

Notably, Mercer found the bosses of the Department of Premier and Cabinet, Kym Winter-Dewhirst, and the Department of State Development, Don Russell, were overpaid by around $60,000. They will not have their pay cut, however, according to The Advertiser.

An SA government spokesperson responded:

“Any change in salary is considered through annual performance reviews or contract renegotiations. There is no intent to change this process as a result of the Mercer report’’.

One mandarin, however, will miss out: to his own surprise, the man in charge of SA’s Office for Recreation and Sport, Paul Anderson, was told last week his services were no longer required by the government. It’s expected he’ll receive a significant pay out.

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