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PM&C officials who oversaw alleged illegal payments told to lawyer up

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(Cartoon by Mark David | @MDavidCartoons)

Department secretaries involved in alleged illegal payments of top public officials told to lawyer up. Anthony Klan reports.

AT LEAST seven top public officials have been allegedly illegally paid for holding two jobs at the same time, with Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) boss Glyn Davis telling the department secretaries who made the appointments to “seek legal advice”.

Almost a year to the day after the Commonwealth Ombudsman requested a review – and following repeated inquiries from The Klaxon – the nation’s most powerful department says it has found seven officials who may have been illegally paid for holding two jobs.

Under Remuneration Tribunal laws, except in certain limited circumstances, it is illegal for a full-time government official to also be paid for a part-time government role.

The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) told The Klaxon:

'Seven… individuals… may have held concurrent full-time and part-time positions for which remuneration was payable. There are five cases remaining which are still being investigated.'

Two of the cases had been “remediated” (PM&C did not say whether the money was repaid) while the five other cases had been referred “to the responsible agency head” for “further investigations”.

PM&C did not disclose the names of those involved.

The departmental secretaries who made the appointments – and who oversaw, or are continuing to oversee, the allegedly illegal payments – could face penalties, including under the  Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 (PGPA).

PM&C said in its statement:

The responsibility for employee remuneration lies with agency heads under the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013... On 21 November 2022, Secretary Davis wrote to relevant department secretaries identifying the five specific cases and advising that the responsible agency heads undertake further investigations and, if necessary, seek legal advice.

Davis has also written to all other department Secretaries on 21 November.

The PM&C statement confirmed that:

'Secretary Davis… wrote to all department secretaries to ensure arrangements are in place in their portfolio to mitigate against the possibility of a part-time office holder receiving a remuneration concurrently with a full-time office in the future.'

On 2 December last year, the Commonwealth Ombudsman instructed PM&C – then under the control of former Prime Minister Scott Morrison – to review all appointments over concerns of officials being illegally paid for multiple jobs.

It was the result of a secret year-long investigation the Ombudsman had conducted into Chris Jose, a top boss at media regulator Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), having been illegally paid for two jobs.

Between May 2018 and April 2020 Jose, who is also a Pentecostal pastor, was paid for his full-time role at the ACMA as well as being illegally paid as a boss of the National Competition Council (NCC), a part-time role.

The Klaxon revealed the scandal in January after it obtained a copy of the Ombudsman’s 41-page report, titled 'OFFICIAL: Sensitive Legal Privilege'.

It would remain hidden from the public except for a leak to The Klaxon.

This week, the Senate passed legislation for a National Anti-Corruption Commission which will, at the request of Opposition leader Peter Dutton – and against expert advice – hold hearings in secret unless there are undefined 'exceptional circumstances'.

The Klaxon has been seeking information about the Ombudsman’s request for a “review” for many months.

In a recent statement, PM&C said Davis was "briefed on this matter on 31 August 2022 and again on 3 November 2022”. That date, 31 August, was nine months after PM&C received the Ombudsman request and three months after Davis’ appointment as PM&C Secretary (on 30 May, when he replaced Phil Gaetjens).

The Klaxon sought responses from PM&C regarding the “review” on 24 August, 26 August and 27 August, 30 August and 31 August.

The Klaxon sought information about the “review” again in September and earlier this month.

In its recent statement, PM&C said Davis had written to Remuneration Tribunal President John Conde on Monday last week. PM&C said Davis wrote to the Commonwealth Ombudsman that same day “confirming the outcomes of PM&C’s review”.

In its statement to The Klaxon, PM&C did not say whether all positions over the seven years to 2 December 2021 had been reviewed and whether all cases of alleged illegal payments had been identified, or how many of the identified officials were still being paid for two government jobs.

PM&C said it had been provided with over 16,000 “data entries”.

The PM&C statement said:

'The Department of Finance provided PM&C with over 16,000 data entries on Commonwealth appointments dating back to 2015, seven of which were identified as individuals who may have held concurrent full-time and part-time positions for which remuneration was payable.'

The Remuneration Tribunal sets the employment conditions for several hundred full-time official appointments and several hundred more part-time appointments.

In its statement, PM&C did not disclose the names of the two officials whose cases it said had been “remediated":

'One instance of overpayment identified from 2019 was remediated at that time and other another instance of overpayment has since been remediated.'

The Jose overpayment case was “identified” in May 2020 by an unnamed whistle-blower who repeatedly pushed for action, culminating in the secret Ombudsman investigation. 

Jose received $41,073 in illegal payments for his job as NCC boss across 53 payments. He has repaid none of it. Jose denies any wrongdoing and has said he was not aware the payments were illegal.

As previously revealed, PM&C, Treasury, Finance and the NCC all went to lengths that resulted in the debt being “waived”, allowing Jose to keep the illegally paid money.

More to come.

Anthony Klan is an investigative journalist and editor of 'The Klaxon'. You can follow him on Twitter @Anthony_Klan. This article was originally published on The Klaxon and has been republished with permission.

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