O’Farrell pledges to reform public service

By Angela Dorizas

NSW Opposition Leader Barry O’Farrell has made an election promise to strengthen professionalism in public sector governance and slash the number of ministerial staff.

Presenting at the Chartered Secretaries Australia Public Sector Update on Tuesday, Mr O’Farrell said the potential of the state’s public service was  “squandered by poor governance”.

He pledged that if elected next year the NSW Liberals and Nationals would “restore trust” in public sector institutions through open government and build a “new customer focused culture”.

“We intend to constrain the politics that has strained the trust between public servants and government, between citizens and our public institutions,” Mr O’Farrell said.

“We’ll restore trust in our public institutions by making them and the individuals that steward them more open and more accountable.”

Mr O’Farrell reaffirmed his commitment to establishing a NSW public service commissioner to oversee appointments, provide training and advice to public servants and develop innovative strategies to recruit and retain skilled employees.

“Our public service commissioner’s tasks will be to ensure that we have the best qualified, the most professional public sector in the nation; to restore and maintain the highest levels of impartiality, ability, accountability and leadership within the public sector; and to make certain that public service positions are filled on the basis of merit and qualification and not mateship and party membership,” he said.

Mr O’Farell told Government News that politics had “infected” the recruitment process, particularly in the senior executive service.

“The recent restructures of NSW departments, which have seen chief of staffs of ministers parachuted into deputy director general roles, are simply unacceptable,” he said.

“It’s precisely what we’re determined to put an end to through putting in place an independent public sector commissioner who will stand up for public interest on theses issues.”

Mr O’Farrell advised senior public servants to focus on policy development and “leave the marketing, leave the politics to ministerial officers”.

“Public servants don’t do politics well, in my view,” he added.

Mr O’Farrell signalled that if elected he would also slash the number of ministerial staff.

“I’m amazed at the proliferation of ministerial staff,” he said.

However, he played down speculation that under a Liberal-National government there would be job cuts across state agencies and departments.

“We want a public service that is productive, that is delivering services,” he said.

“Whether it’s three or three hundred thousand people, what’s important is that they’re actually delivering services to the public.

“The only area that we’ve said there will be job cuts is in ending Labor’s no forced redundancy policy.”

Minister for Public Sector Reform, Paul Lynch, dismissed the Opposition Leaders' claims.

"The Government rejects the suggestion that the SES has been politicised, or is no longer capable of providing the best, well argued, impartial advice," Mr Lynch told Government News.

He said all appointments to the SES were made on merit and all officers had a performance agreement and were subject to annual review.

"This is a statutory requirement. SES appointments are made by directors general – not by Ministers," Mr Lynch said.

"Reappointment to an SES position can occur only after a formally constituted panel has considered the performance of the officer and found it to be of a high standard.

"Where this is not the case, the job must be advertised."

Mr Lynch claimed that a Liberal-National government would cut public service positions.

"The last time the Liberal-National Coalition went to an election in NSW, its policy was to slash 20,000 jobs from the public sector," he said.

"People are entitled to ask whether this policy is still in Mr O’Farrell’s bottom drawer."

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