‘Dictator Dan’s’ state of fear: How Andrews muzzled the public service with the help of an army of private staff bigger than the PM and NSW premier combined
Victoria's public service has been muzzled by a strong-armed state government, a damning report has found.
Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass on Wednesday presented the second version of her report into the alleged politicization of the state's public sector.
The inquiry found that a culture of fear and secrecy and an over-reliance on advisers by the Andrews Labor government had 'eroded' the 'impartiality' of the public service.
Ms Glass noted that 'the growth and influence of the Prime Minister's Office has been raised by some as a worrying concentration of decision-making outside specialist departments'.
The Ombudsman found that Daniel Andrews' cabinet had more than 80 staff in 2022, about as many as the Premier and the NSW Premier combined.
The ombudsman reopened her investigation to investigate issues surrounding former Prime Minister Daniel Andrews
It was found that Mr Andrews' cabinet had more than 80 staff, about as many as the Premier and the NSW Premier combined.
Ms Glass had reopened the investigation after a motion by former Labor powerbroker Adem Somyurek passed the House of Lords in February calling for an investigation into the role Andrews may have played in Labour's 'red shirts' scheme.
The report again did not find that the public service had been unfairly filled with Labor officers, but did reveal that it had been politicized in 'other, equally profound ways'.
“Creeping politicization is a reality in Victoria and requires urgent attention,” Ms Glass said.
The state's public sector was 'marginalised' and unable to remain an impartial body serving the then government while providing it with frank and fearless advice.
The report mentioned the government's Suburban Rail Loop.
“It was subject to excessive secrecy and was proven by consultants rather than developed by officials,” the ombudsman said.
“Its announcement blindsided the agency created by the same government to remove short-term politics from infrastructure planning.”
The report described a culture in which senior hiring decisions were undermined by circumventing processes, including frequent direct appointments of former ministerial staffers, sloppy and opaque recruitment practices and poor administration.
“Perception is important,” Ms. Glass said.
'Selection should not only be made on merit, it should also be seen.'
Melbourne's Suburban Rail Loop was subject to excessive secrecy, the Victorian Ombudsman says
Ms Glass described the worrying growth and influence of the former Prime Minister's Cabinet, where there was a concentration of decisions made outside specialist departments.'
“In 2022, the Victorian Premier had roughly the same number of staff as the Australian Prime Minister and the Premier of NSW combined,” she said.
Mr Andrews' staff was larger than the NSW Premier and Premier's offices combined, which had 50 and 35 employees respectively.
After interviewing 45 senior government officials and reviewing millions of documents, the ombudsman noted the “disturbing” number of officials who were afraid to contribute for fear of retaliation if they spoke out.
The report made eight recommendations, including appointing a head of public service to replace the prime minister as employer of department and administrative heads, stronger hiring practices and removing excessive cabinet secrecy.
Mr Andrews was cleared in the Ombudsman's first investigation into running the red shirt scheme, which found Labor had misused $388,000 of taxpayers' money during the 2014 election campaign.
No criminal charges were laid following the report, despite 21 former and current Labor MPs being found to have breached parliamentary guidelines.