About a quarter of all Justice Department executives have been made redundant, and further cuts will likely hit the senior branch, as the department faces a corruption watchdog probe into the potential politicisation of the public service.
The purge of 49 executive positions at the Department of Justice and Community Safety, where more jobs are expected to be slashed, is part of the Andrews government’s plan to cut up to 4000 jobs across the public service. The department has about 200 executives.
The mass redundancies, announced last week, come four years after a culling of senior departmental roles, which was overseen by former department secretary Rebecca Falkingham.
Department whistleblowers raised concerns about the job losses in May 2019, which led to the immediate appointment of dozens of senior bureaucrats who had formerly worked with Falkingham at the Department of Premier and Cabinet. The executives were contracted on salary bands ranging from $170,000 to $370,000.
The 2019 redundancies are now part of a broader Victorian Ombudsman probe into whether the state’s public service has been undermined by the appointment of dozens of Labor operatives to non-political positions.
Falkingham has defended her actions. “Recruitment of this scale is not unusual and sends a strong signal about a change to priorities,” according to a department statement to The Age last year.
A public servant at the department, not authorised to speak publicly, described the current situation as a mess and said considerable public funds would again be used on redundancy packages.
“Falkingham came through a few years back and culled dozens of executive roles, and then turned around and replaced them.
“Now we’ve got another purge, it’s just laughable. And the poor old taxpayer has to foot the bill again,” the public servant said.
A Justice Department spokesman confirmed the redundancies and said the department was working to minimise the impact on those affected.
“Like all departments, the Department of Justice and Community Safety has started work to achieve the savings announced in this year’s budget, while ensuring we continue to deliver on the government’s core priorities.
“We will consult closely with our staff and the CPSU [Community and Public Sector Union] as these changes are implemented,” the spokesman said.
The redundancies come as Victoria’s Treasury has been left without any deputy secretaries after the exit of three of the state’s most senior bureaucrats.
Treasury secretary David Martine remains the only member of Treasury’s most senior executive group after the recent departure of the three division heads – Jason Loos, Chris Barrett and Jamie Driscoll.
A spokesman for the Department of Treasury and Finance confirmed the departures on Monday and said a recruitment process to replace the trio would start shortly.
“In the interim, acting arrangements have been put in place with existing executive directors from the department,” the spokesman said.
All three department deputy secretaries – Loos, Driscoll and Barrett – fronted hearings of the public accounts and estimates committee in June, where they were grilled on the Myki public transport ticketing contract and the private-school exemptions to payroll tax.
Deputy secretary of the department’s commercial division Jason Loos, who was responsible for providing commercial, financial and risk management advice to the government, finished up at Treasury last month. He has moved to a new role in the Victorian public service and has been temporarily replaced by acting deputy secretary Kate O’Sullivan.
His departure came just weeks after the Albanese government announced Chris Barrett, the deputy secretary of the economic division, would take up the role of Productivity Commission chairman from September.
Barrett was former treasurer Wayne Swan’s chief of staff before Swan appointed him as ambassador to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris. He returned to Australia in 2019 and was appointed by the Andrews government to head up Invest Victoria, which helps attract investment to the state.
In 2021, he was appointed deputy secretary of the Treasury’s economic division.
But his recent appointment to the Productivity Commission by federal Treasurer Jim Chalmers – who worked alongside Barrett in former treasurer Wayne Swan’s office – was questioned by federal opposition treasury spokesman Angus Taylor, who raised concerns about a former Labor staff member moving into the role.
Jamie Driscoll, who served as the deputy secretary of the Victorian Treasury’s budget division, also quit. Driscoll, a former adviser to Labor premier John Brumby, has served as chief of staff to ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr.
Driscoll returned to the Victorian public service in 2017 and joined the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions before he was appointed Treasury deputy secretary in 2019.
Separately, Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass told parliament on Monday that her investigation of alleged politicisation of Victoria’s public service should be tabled by the end of the year. Glass has not publicly named anyone under investigation.
The upper house voted to call on the probe in February after an investigation by The Age which revealed that more than 30 senior public servants were formerly advisers to Premier Daniel Andrews or his ministers.
As head of the budget and finance division, Driscoll had oversight over the finances for the 2026 Commonwealth Games, which the Andrews government axed last month. He will be replaced by Mark Johnstone.
In response to the latest departures from Treasury, a government spokesperson said: “All three deputy secretaries have made a significant contribution to the department and Victoria, and we wish them well.”
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