Environment of tension, anxiety
Concerns over Labor staffing inquiries
SENIOR public servants were uncomfortable with a request from Environment Minister David Speirs’ office to identify former Labor staffers in his department, Freedom of Information documents reveal.
Text messages between Environment Department staff show they were surprised and “a bit anxious” about the request to compile a list of political staffers by Mr Speirs’ chief of staff Cullen Bailey.
Mr Speirs had previously told Parliament he had sought the list to give former ministerial staff “the opportunity to come and work in my office” and had since hired them.
But Opposition accountability spokesman Tom Koutsantonis said the texts were “unprecedented” and showed it caused “deep divisions” in Mr Speirs’ department.
In text messages to other senior public servants, Environment Department staffer Caroline Croser-Barlow – who is now implementing the Government’s push to move year 7 into high school – said she was “a bit anxious” about compiling the lists.
She said she was “uncomfortable with framing” of the direction and texted a “sensitive question around being asked for list of staff who worked in minister’s office” to Attorney-General’s Department executive director Adam Kilvert.
Her Environment Department colleague Danielle Elston also expressed surprise at the request, texting Dr CroserBarlow: “A list of people who have every (sic) worked in (minister’s) office???!”
Dr Croser-Barlow also messaged Department of Environment staffer Lynne Hare to say it was worth clarifying with Mr Speirs’ office what he wanted to do with names of former staffers. “Like, if they believe they are politicised, useful to understand they are (Public sector Act employees) and so not necessarily able to terminate them,” the text said.
Mr Koutsantonis described the messages as “explosive”.
“It’s unprecedented that in a Freedom of Information search, the department gave the opposition text messages,” he said. “The fact staff members felt uncomfortable speaks volumes. We need a public service that is frank and fearless and completely free of any political interference.”
Mr Speirs said he had simply sought the list to hire a number of former Labor staffers to work in his office, and had never intended to discriminate against them: “This is nothing more than disgraceful Labor muckraking from Tom Koutsantonis.”
SPLIT VIEWS: David Speirs and Tom Koutsantonis are in a war of words over staff queries.