Belt-tight­en­ing cuts more jobs

Countryman - - FRONT PAGE - Melissa Wil­liams

WA La­bor has con­tin­ued to slash jobs at the State’s agri­cul­ture and food de­part­ment but man­aged to claw more funds out of in­dus­try for coin­vest­ment in re­search, de­vel­op­ment and ex­ten­sion.

The De­part­ment of Pri­mary In­dus­tries and Re­gional De­vel­op­ment an­nual re­port for 2017-18 was is­sued this month and showed 131 staff were cut from the su­per-agency dur­ing the year, sav­ing $4.5 mil­lion in salaries.

This in­cluded a req­ui­site 20 per cent re­duc­tion in se­nior ex­ec­u­tive ser­vices across the for­mer de­part­ments of agri­cul­ture and food; fish­eries

and re­gional de­vel­op­ment; and nine re­gional de­vel­op­ment com­mis­sions.

The job shed­ding at DPIRD dur­ing 2017-18 fol­lowed an es­ti­mated 38 per cent cut in full­time-equiv­a­lent staff at the for­mer De­part­ment of Agri­cul­ture and Food WA in 2007 and 2016.

A stock­take re­port into DAFWA in Au­gust 2016 showed there were 965 FTE staff at that time, down from 1581 FTE staff in June 2007. It fore­cast that, with­out any State Gov­ern­ment bud­get re­lief, this re­duc­tion was likely to con­tinue.

The stock­take re­port panel re­vealed that staff re­duc­tions at DAFWA, while nec­es­sary in some ar­eas, had led to sig­nif­i­cant and un­sus­tain­able work­loads for some key mem­bers.

It said this threat­ened DPIRD’s abil­ity to de­liver on Gov­ern­ment’s pri­or­i­ties, in ad­di­tion to hav­ing a sig­nif­i­cant and neg­a­tive im­pact on staff morale.

The 2016 stock­take re­port also showed DAFWA was lev­er­ag­ing the $122 mil­lion it re­ceived from the State Gov­ern­ment for its front­line ac­tiv­i­ties with about $50 mil­lion ex­tra com­ing in from third par­ties, such as na­tional RD&E cor­po­ra­tions.

Such lev­er­ag­ing is ben­e­fi­cial to Gov­ern­ment and the wider agri­cul­tural sec­tor but the DAFWA stock­take re­view panel flagged that the agency’s abil­ity to at­tract co-in­vest­ment was of­ten chal­lenged by an in­abil­ity to demon­strate the match­ing in­vest­ment by the Gov­ern­ment.

The 2017-18 DPIRD an­nual re­port showed that the Grains Re­search and De­vel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion con­tin­ued to be the State Gov­ern­ment’s big­gest sin­gle co-in­vestor in agri­cul­ture and its con­tri­bu­tion to the agency in­creased in 2017-18 from the pre­vi­ous year.

This un­der­pinned a 19 per cent in­crease in DPIRD’s to­tal ex­pen­di­ture on co-in­vest­ment projects com­pared to the pre­vi­ous year.

It meant the de­part­ment met its tar­get of 22 per cent co-in­vest­ment as a pro­por­tion of to­tal cost of ser­vices, which was rel­a­tively con­sis­tent with lev­els of the past five years.

DPIRD’s over­all fi­nan­cial per­for­mance in 2016-17 was high­lighted by an un­der-spend of about $60 mil­lion from its es­ti­mated ac­tual of $516 mil­lion.

This was at­trib­uted to lower fund­ing for var­i­ous Roy­al­ties for Re­gions projects, lower-thanex­pected salary ex­penses — mainly due to de­lays in fill­ing va­can­cies — and lower de­pre­ci­a­tion ex­penses for the Gas­coyne Food Bowl Pipe­line, Grains In­no­va­tion precinct and the State Bar­rier Fence.

Agri­cul­ture Min­is­ter Alan­nah MacTier­nan told State Par­lia­ment that project un­der-spends were about $45.4 mil­lion, lower salaries $6.8 mil­lion and de­pre­ci­a­tion $7.8 mil­lion.

Ms MacTier­nan said con­sid­er­a­tion of project un­der-spends would form part of the mid-year DPIRD re­view process, which was not yet com­plete.

She said re­duced salary ex­pen­di­ture of $6.8 mil­lion (about 3 per cent of salaries) was con­sis­tent with typ­i­cal vari­ances in pub­lic sec­tor va­cancy rates.

Pic­ture: Daniel Wilkins

Agri­cul­ture Min­is­ter Alan­nah MacTier­nan with Edah sta­tion’s An­gus Nichols last month, after the an­nounce­ment the Gov­ern­ment would be con­tribut­ing to the Murchi­son Hub Cell fence.

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