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Rachael Ward

Culture of fear in Victoria's public service exposed

Daniel Andrews had 84 staffers, roughly as many as the prime minister and NSW premier combined. (James Ross/AAP PHOTOS)


* The Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass investigated claims of alleged politicisation of the public sector after the upper house passed a motion asking for the inquiry, pushed by former Labor powerbroker Adem Somyurek

* The motion was triggered by a newspaper article alleging ALP-aligned figures held senior roles in the public service and agencies

* 45 people were formally interviewed and 186 submissions received, but Ms Glass said many others were afraid to contribute over concerns about retribution


* No evidence of widespread partisan hiring of former ministerial staffers to advance ALP objectives. 

* However, merit-based recruitment processes were described as rushed, shoddy and frequently side stepped

* Creeping politicisation is a reality in Victoria and requires urgent attention

* Senior public officials with little job security felt pressure to tailor advice based on the preferences of the government of the day

* There is a reluctance to be seen as 'pushing back' on costly projects that are popular with the electorate and sometimes genuine advice is equated with attacking the government, which could potentially lead to cost blow outs or failure to deliver on promises

* Early planning stages of the Suburban Rail Loop and now-aborted 2026 Commonwealth Games plans were shrouded in secrecy and there was a reliance on external consultants

* In 2022, the Victorian premier had 84 staffers, roughly as many as the Australian prime minister and NSW premier combined


* Call to establish an independent head of the public service, selected by a bi-partisan committee rather than the premier, responsible for employing department secretaries and agency leaders

* Improve career stability for senior public servants and reconsidering 'at will' termination clauses for executives

* Rethinking cabinet confidentiality as current restrictions limited access to material the ombudsman wanted to view for the investigation


* "I can't tell them the bad news, no one wants to know it" - anonymous former agency head 

* "A new appointment would be announced and people would say, 'Well surprise, surprise: It's someone else from (the Department of Premier and Cabinet)'" - former Department of Justice and Community Safety executive

* "My career is very purpose driven and I've done my best to make a positive contribution to the state and country. If you're interested in public policy, you're going to work for the  public service" - former ministerial staffer

* "I'm really uncomfortable about being in a position where we're in these meetings and I'm fully aware that [the former ministerial staffer is] the pre-selected [ALP] candidate… I just don't think it's appropriate" - public sector executive

* "I learned about the political affiliation of one of our staff when I saw him on a billboard" - former department secretary

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