13/03/2007 - 22:00

Public sector pressure

13/03/2007 - 22:00

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Ministerial staffers would be banned from holding senior elected positions in political parties if the state government adopts reforms currently being evaluated by Commissioner of Public Sector Standards, Maxine Murray.

Public sector pressure

Ministerial staffers would be banned from holding senior elected positions in political parties if the state government adopts reforms currently being evaluated by Commissioner of Public Sector Standards, Maxine Murray.

Ms Murray’s office released a discussion paper last year proposing a separate code of conduct to govern the conduct of ministerial staff.

“A separate code of ethics is required which is appropriate for the distinct role of ministerial staff, and which puts the minimum expectations with respect to their conduct (in particular their relationship with the public sector) on an open and transparent basis,” Ms Murray said in the discussion paper.

Her reforms proposals take on added importance in light of the revelations at the Corruption and Crime Commission inquiry, which raised concern about politicisation of the public service.

The former chief of staff to John Bowler, Simon Corrigan and the former chief of staff to Tony McRae, Lewi Ryall resigned earlier this month after the CCC revealed close links between their ministers and disgraced lobbyists, Brian Burke and Julian Grill.

A third ministerial staffer, the former chief of staff to Fisheries Minister Jon Ford, Nathan Hondras, had his contract terminated under provisions of the Public Sector Management Act.

Ms Murray told WA Business News one reform option would be for ministerial staff to be prohibited from holding positions on the state executive of political parties.

This would bring WA into line with guidelines introduced by the Blair Labour government in the UK.

If this proposal was accepted, the state government would not have been able to appoint Labor Party state president and former Federal MP Sharryn Jackson to run the Community Cabinet Liaison Unit.

The discussion paper noted that the exact number of ministerial staff engaged to assist a political office holder is difficult to ascertain.

“It is difficult to obtain an accurate picture of the number of ministerial officers engaged in a particular financial year and whether those numbers have increased over time,” the discussion paper said.

However, it did publish data suggesting abut 180 ministerial staffers were employed in WA in mid 2006.

A second project being pursued by Ms Murray is a set of guidelines designed to ensure public servants behave with political impartiality.

Draft guidelines issued last year have generated some concern on the basis they would interfere with the right of public servants to be involved in political parties.

The draft guidelines state that public servants may publicly express their own political or personal views, but then add several qualifiers.

They state that public servants must not publicly express their personal views in a way that could be taken as a comment in their official capacity, and must not publicly criticise government policy with which they have been professionally involved or which they are required to implement.

Ms Murray said the draft guidelines “serve as a guide to public servants to maintain their political impartiality”.

“That is a cornerstone of the way our system should work,” she said.

Ms Murray said the issue became more significant as public servants moved to more senior positions.

CPSA/CSA branch secretary Toni Walkington said the union was concerned that the political rights of individuals were not infringed, and noted that ministerial staffers were often political appointments anyway.

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