Victorian Premier Jacinta Allan talks down ombudsman’s ‘culture of fear’ finding

Victorian Premier Jacinta Allan talks down ombudsman’s ‘culture of fear’ finding
  • PublishedDecember 7, 2023

Premier Jacinta Allan has denied there is a culture of fear in Victoria’s public service, labelling findings within a damning Ombudsman’s report “commentary”.

On Wednesday, Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass tabled a long-awaited report into allegations the Andrews government had politicised the public service.

While Ms Glass found no evidence of partisan political appointments or former ministerial staff working to further ALP objectives, she did criticise a “culture of fear” in the public service.

In particular, she noted how some senior bureaucrats had told her that they were “shit scared” to speak to her investigation due to fear of repercussions for their current and future employment.

Ms Glass also said there was a lack of frank and fearless advice given to the government by public service.

When Ms Allan was asked at a press conference on Thursday about the culture of fear, she replied by saying the ombudsman had made no findings of the politicisation of the public service.

She also said she had not witnessed the culture of fear and had always encouraged public servants to come forward with ideas.

“From time to time you might have a point of disagreement with your public servants but that’s a good and healthy thing to have in a functioning democratic system,” Ms Allan said.

“That’s my expectation of the public service because that’s how I’ve operated with the public service the entire time I’ve been a minister.”

Premier hesitant about recommendations

The ombudsman also criticised the way the Andrews government kept plans for the Suburban Rail Loop secret from senior Department of Transport staff, including the department secretary.

The report found the government had relied on consultants at PwC to “prove up” the $125 billion project.

Ms Allan also defended that process.

“When you think about the consideration of good public policy and poor decision making, of course you should get access to all the sources of advice that are available for you to make the best decision,” she said.

A woman wearing glasses stares at camera in a portrait shot
Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass handed down her report on Wednesday.(ABC)

The ombudsman recommended the government appoint an independent head of the public service to oversee key appointments.

While the Premier is still mulling the recommendations, Ms Allan poured cold water on the idea.

“Ultimately, governments are elected, ministers, Members of Parliament, we are there to serve the community and as part of serving the community we have to make decisions,” Ms Allan said.

Experts say report should be taken seriously 

Integrity experts welcomed Ms Glass’s report and said they hoped Labor under Ms Allan would be less dismissive of key reports than that of her predecessor Daniel Andrews.

Centre for Public Integrity fellow and Melbourne Law School associate professor Will Partlett said it was concerning Ms Allan did not acknowledge that there could be a problem.

“It could very well be that Premier Allan, she’s not aware of this culture or she hasn’t seen it in action. But … this is not coming out of nowhere,” he said.

He said the Premier should take the findings seriously and think about the reforms the ombudsman had suggested, including the appointment of an independent public service commission.

“It was a very careful report and I think it should be taken seriously,” he said.

“I think dismissing findings like that is, in my view, it’s not helpful. I think she should be taking this seriously.”

Opposition Leader John Pesutto said Ms Allan had failed to showed that she would run a different government to Mr Andrews.


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