We make a submission to ICAC Operation Dasha

For decades depa has seen the flaws created when senior staff are appointed on term contracts.  There was always going to be a risk to senior staff giving advice without fear or favour if they are being heavied by councillors or a GM who wants them to do something else when their contract was up for renewal.

There is no protection at all and that’s the whole point of there being term contracts required by section 338 of the Local Government Act being accompanied by section 340 prohibiting any access to entitlements under any industrial instrument, or more importantly, any protection available from the Industrial Relations Commission on dismissal.

It may not have been the plan, but it has delivered up vulnerable senior employees and potentially compromised their advice.
38 weeks’ pay and no obligation to provide a reason for the termination has been embraced by many councils - very happy to get rid of good people and do this apparently unconcerned that it costs their ratepayers and the community 38 weeks’ pay, and often a pretty good rate of pay as well, to sack people who don’t deserve to be sacked.  And GM’s do it too, equally as unrestrained by the unnecessary cost.

We’ve seen the misuse of term contracts since their introduction.  We have always tried to do something about it and Operation Dasha, with allegations by the GM of the former Canterbury that councillors were bullying, or blackmailing him, as he put it, to make a particular appointment to job of Director of Planning, is an opportunity too good to miss.  Maybe the ICAC will see the wisdom of removing the fixed terms and recognising these positions as both requiring and deserving permanent employment.  They must otherwise be struggling to understand how this can all happen.

The Office of Local Government has their own barrister, harrying the current GM of Canterbury-Bankstown about the value of the “termination without reasons clause ... in the event that there was a breakdown in the relationship between the councillors and the general manager”.  Full credit to Matthew Stewart for not succumbing to the pressure and we all know that “breakdown in the relationship” means only that the Council doesn’t like the GM, because the GM, for good reasons, won’t do what they want.

It’s also odd that while the State public sector has transitioned almost all of their Senior Executive Service employees to ongoing employment, including those SES employees working at OLG (OMG!) that the OLG continues to defend this anachronistic and dangerous employment arrangement.  There will never be confidence in local government, if employees can be directed on the content of their advice and are afraid to provide advice without fear or favour.

So this is the first problem and the second problem is the overwhelming evidence over the past decade or so in particular, that it was never a good idea for the elected councillors to have anything at all to do with the assessment of a DA – a view now recently shared by the NSW Government, which required Sydney Metropolitan councils to do what Wollongong has been doing, of having DAs dealt with by a Local Planning Panel.  We called for the removal of councillors from DAs in depaNews in July 2017 and the Government responded almost immediately and did so.  It must be the power of the pen.

What we know already about the way business was done at the former Canterbury brings together these two areas of government policy as if they were to storm cells we have been watching on a weather map, gradually getting closer and closer together, then joining with catastrophic results.

The ICAC’s consideration allows us the opportunity to respond to both these areas and we have done so, lodging a submission with the ICAC on 23 May and making some sensible and easily implementable recommendations on both employment protection and planning.  Check it out.

Public hearings for Operation Dasha resume on 13 June.  Let’s see what happens.

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