En­vi­ron­ment of ten­sion, anx­i­ety

Con­cerns over La­bor staffing inquiries

The Advertiser - - NEWS - ADAM LANGENBERG PO­LIT­I­CAL RE­PORTER

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.

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