'Right of return', payouts cut for axed WA senior officials

By The Mandarin

August 16, 2018

The Western Australian McGowan government has introduced legislation to reduce payouts to senior government officials for early termination and prevent their return to the public service.

The government says the changes will result in multimillion dollar savings for taxpayers and also enable the public sector to better prepare for workforce planning.

However, WA’s Community Public Sector Union and Civil Service Association say the changes will limit public sector leader’s ability to deliver frank and fearless advice to government ministers, and will lose top talent interstate.

The state’s Senior Executive Service employees will, under the proposed bill, lose their right of return to a position within the public sector in the event their SES position is terminated.

The bill also limits compensation payouts to a maximum of 12 months’ salary for early contact termination. The current laws allow for 12 months’ total remuneration, including salary, allowances and superannuation.

Had these new laws been in effect at the time of the last election, the government estimated it would have saved more than $2.5 million.

Senior bureaucrats have been paid in excess of $6 million in compensation for early contract termination since the McGowan government came to power last year.

Machinery of government changes that saw the number of departments falling from 41 to 25 are responsible for around 20 terminations, but some senior leaders have also left by ‘mutual agreement’.

Premier Mark McGowan said the changes would enable a more efficient public sector:

“We’ve always aimed to implement real change across the public service, and these new laws mean Western Australia will be the only jurisdiction to provide a limited right of return period for an executive’s first contract.”

McGowan blamed previous governments for not making the changes earlier, saying the payouts should have reduced a long time ago.

“This legislation will protect future governments and help limit payouts in the future.

“Overall the changes for the State’s most senior public servants have delivered a significant ongoing saving for all Western Australians.”

The 300 existing SES employees will have a six-month transition period to exercise their right to return after which they will lose it. Newly appointed SES employees will have a two-year period to exercise a right of return, from they are first appointed.

More than 400 senior public service and health executives will have their compensation entitlements curtailed from the date the legislation is passed, the government has confirmed.

Changes risk losing top talent interstate: union

The CPSU/CSA’s branch assistant secretary, Rikki Hendon, said the public sector needs to attract highly talent individuals, but removing conditions and blocking leaders from returning risks losing the state’s best talent.

“Calling the SES bureaucrats is disingenuous — these are some of our best and brightest tasked with some of the most challenging policy areas in the state.”

“We need to retain public sector leaders who can offer strategic leadership of the highest standard and give impartial and specialist policy expertise.”

“These changes will risk our best and brightest being lost to roles interstate, or else lost to the private sector.”

The union also says it has heard concerns from SES employees that their job security, or lack of it, will impact advice to government. Hendon added:

“It is essential that senior public servants have the confidence to provide frank and fearless advice to the government of the day – no matter who they are.”

“Removing the job security of the SES undermines this confidence and leaves them vulnerable to adverse professional consequences if they deliver an inconvenient truth.”

Path to permanency for government’s insecure employees

Earlier this month the McGowan government announced up to 13,000 public sector staff would be considered for permanency, potentially rising to 23,000 in the next year.

Public servants who have worked for more than two years in fixed-term or casual contract roles will be eligible for permanent positions under guidelines that will be issued by the state’s Public Sector Commission.

The premier said the changes would help create a more stable, efficient public sector.

The CPSU/CSA has welcomed the path to permanency changes.

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