Sacked DPC executive had questioned Marshall’s cabinet office plan

Premier Steven Marshall has denied he was cautioned about “influencing or interfering with” public sector employment arrangements, but has revealed the former deputy chief executive of his department raised questions about “comments that I had made to the cabinet office” days before she was sacked.

Jun 08, 2018, updated Jun 08, 2018
Steven Marshall has denied in parliament influencing public sector appointments. Photo: Tony Lewis / InDaily

Steven Marshall has denied in parliament influencing public sector appointments. Photo: Tony Lewis / InDaily

In parliament yesterday, Marshall strongly denied that he or any member of his staff “ever sought to influence or interfere with the employment arrangements of non-chief executive public sector employees”.

Leader of Opposition Business Tom Koutsantonis then asked him whether he, or any member of his staff, had “ever been cautioned about influence or interfering with the employment arrangements of non-chief executive public sector employees”.

“I think the only thing that I can recall is that the former deputy chief executive of the Department of Premier and Cabinet came down and spoke with my chief of staff seeking some clarification regarding comments that I had made to the cabinet office, which were clarified fully and made very clear to the deputy chief executive at the time,” Marshall said.

He later clarified that the conversation did not represent a “caution”, saying: “I think I can absolutely say unequivocally there was no caution provided by staff members to the Premier or the Premier’s office.”

The conversation between the department’s then-deputy CE Tahnya Donaghy and Marshall’s chief of staff James Stevens followed a meeting between Marshall and cabinet office executive director Ruth Ambler, after which, the Premier told parliament: “I met with the senior people within the cabinet office to tell them about the arrangements that we were putting in place”.

“There was no caution that was provided,” he said.

“I think it was more excitement about the opportunity to work with the new government, which was going to treat our senior bureaucrats, and in particular our cabinet office, with absolute respect.”

As InDaily revealed at the time, Donaghy’s contract was terminated days later, along with that of DPC executive and former Labor candidate Rik Morris.

There is no suggestion the termination was linked, with Marshall explicitly refuting the notion as an “outrageous accusation”.

In parliament, Marshall insisted he had “absolutely not” told cabinet office executives that all cabinet office staff who had previously been employed in former premier Jay Weatherill’s office, or that of any former minister, would be transferred out of cabinet office and the Department of the Premier and Cabinet.

“The reality is… we made it very clear that we would be a very different government from the previous government, and one of the things in particular that we spoke about in the early days of coming to government… was a different methodology of operating,” he said.

“We wanted to move to a full cabinet orientation, and this meant that we would be relying very strongly on the work of the cabinet office.”

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He said in his meeting with Ambler “I expressed to her a change in orientation from the previous government [whereby] the cabinet meets twice per week”.

He said that arrangement “produces much better results than other methodologies”, arguing that “under the previous government we seemed to have lots of decisions being made on the fly, lots of papers being deposited on the cabinet table without a lot of consultation with other government departments”.

“We hear a lot of, I suppose, compliments from within departments that they are being fully consulted, which leads me to believe that they probably were not being that consulted previously under the previous arrangement,” he told parliament.

Koutsantonis suggested that several public sector employees, including one-time Labor staffer Liam Golding as well as Bia Delaney, Margot McInnes, Amy Butler, Paul Larder, Jessica Stapleton and Matthew Cox had been transferred out of DPC after the election.

Asked whether he had “played any role in any public sector employee who held a substantive role in DPC being transferred out of the agency following the election”, Marshall said that would have been decided by acting chief executive Erma Ranieri, or her predecessor Don Russell, who was sacked by Marshall less than a week after polling day.

Asked whether he “or any member of his staff” had requested a list of staff who worked within the former premier’s office, Marshall said: “I certainly haven’t and I am not aware of any staff doing so, but I am happy to make inquiries.”

Ranieri told InDaily in a statement she was not in her role at the time of the meeting referred to in parliament, “and therefore was not aware of the discussions referred to”.

“Prior to my appointment, I’m advised discussions occurred between the former CE [Russell] and the Executive Director of Cabinet Office [Ambler] in relation to the staffing requirements of that office,” she said.

“Following my appointment, I was advised by the Executive Director of her recommendation to source alternative roles in other agencies for five employees attached to Cabinet Office.”

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