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Auditor-General's Report into Local Government Recruitment

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Tuesday, 12 October 2021

Tags: Local Government, Auditor-General

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Deputy Speaker, I want to rise and make some comments about the Auditor General's report tabled in parliament this morning on council general manager recruitment appointment and performance assessment processes.

This was a very important report and it speaks volumes about some real deficiencies in the local Government sector around the very, very important appointment process for general managers, which we all know, those of us who have anything to do with local government, is a critical person: the critical person in ensuring that the work of councils is undertaken in a fair and equitable, efficient, productive manner and who oversees the operations of council. This is a critical position and the Auditor General's report was very concerning and for some councils it was damning. For the Huon Valley Council in particular, it was very damning.

I want to first make the point that Mr Whitehead noted that the majority of the recruitments he examined had neither the consultant nor the council able to provide documentation that rated and compared applicants using the appropriate selection criteria at the short listing and interview stage. For the majority of councils, conflicts of interest were not documented or reported after the short listing process had been completed. He also found no council conducted a performance assessment process consistent with contemporary human resource practice.

These are damning comments but the Auditor General saved his most damning findings for his separate assessment of the Huon Valley Council. He did this because that fell after and outside the previous assessment processes. The appointment of the general manager in the Huon Valley has been highly controversial; a matter of public discussion for months. The reason for that is that after the board of inquiry, where the whole council was sacked and an independent administrator was brought in for a period of time to set the council on the right course, in the 2018 local Government elections a new council was voted in by the community, specifically on the issue of governance and transparency. The community are sick of bad governance, they are sick of secret deals and they are sick of a failed accountability mechanism of the previous council. Mayor Enders came in specifically on the back of people in the valley who wanted her to commit to overseeing good governance. Mr Whitehead looked at the recruitment process for the general manager from 31 March to 15 September and he made comments about that and particularly the recruitment agent, Ms Joanne Inches from the company RedGiant, and the processes around that. His conclusion about the processes were: that the panel's consideration of the conflict of interest in the recruitment process did not demonstrate an understanding of the significance of the consultant's reported conflict of interest and pecuniary interest; that the panel accepted the consultant RedGiant's suggested approach to managing the conflict of interest and did not appropriately mitigate it; and that the council decided to proceed with the recruitment of the general manager, despite knowing after receipt of a report from a legal adviser, that the process lacked integrity.

The community has been aware of this as the months have gone by. The council panel appointed Ms Joanne Inches from RedGiant. On 26 May Ms Inches learnt that her partner had applied for the job that she was hired to recruit for. She could have withdrawn herself from that process at that point but she chose not to. Forty days passed before Ms Inches informed the council that she had a conflict of interest. By that time she had excluded 71 of the applicants for the Huon Valley General Manager position out of the 85 total number. So, 71 were binned and at the time the selection panel of four councillors, chaired by Mayor Bec Enders, could have halted the selection process and employed a new, independent recruitment agent who was unbiased to review all the 85 candidates, but the council panel chose not to do that.

When all nine councillors were subsequently made aware of the flawed selection process, in fairness to all candidates at that point, they could have abandoned the proceedings and readvertised the position, but they chose not to do that.

Finally, many community members personally and publicly implored the council to delay the appointment of the general manager until a thorough investigation into the selection process was undertaken but the council, under Mayor Bec Enders, chose not to do that. These opportunities were not accidentally overlooked. They were actively overlooked; they were deliberate choices at each part of the process.

As the head of the selection of the general manager and as the head of the council, the buck stops with the Mayor, Bec Enders. She came into the council on the back of a commitment to the community to rewrite the history that led to the board of inquiry and to usher in a new era of unbiased processes, accountability and transparency for people in the Huon Valley. It has not happened.

The minister needs to read this report. He needs to act on the recommendations of the Auditor-General. The Auditor-General is very clear. Huon Valley Council had inadequate management of conflict of interest and the potential for bias and unfair treatment of applicants was significant throughout the process. The process undermined the public confidence required in an appointment as significant as the general manager of a council.

It stinks. It is a disgusting situation that these sorts of appointments continue and the minister needs to step in.