A facade, is always just a facade...

The website Modern Heritage Matters defines Facadism as usually referring to “the trend towards preserving the facade of an historical building while erecting new buildings behind or around it.” It’s something that gives a nod to history, or legitimacy, but which hides something else. Like a movie set or a faux consultative mechanism established by Government to placate aggrieved organisations under the impression they were being genuinely consulted.

There is no doubt that the Government’s construction of the Employment Matters Reference Group is a facade aimed at hiding practices quite contrary to the espoused intention behind its construction.

The question for us is how much longer we are prepared to put up with participating in something where the Government itself doesn’t comply with its own Terms of Reference.

We exposed DPC for not distributing the fortnightly Stronger Councils Stronger Communities Status Update (covering 11 July to 24 July) by distributing the document to members of the Reference Group when DPC had failed to do so. The document dealt with a whole range of employment issues and how progress was being made in the merged councils in weeks 9 and 10 after the proclamations and, by any measure should have been distributed every fortnight to the Reference Group.

But when it was argued at the next meeting of the Reference Group that we should have this information, all the DPC would say was that they would have a “conversation” with the Minister for Local Government, because it was his call whether we should see copies. DPC chose to do nothing in the time between us distributing the document and the next meeting of the Reference Group and if they really needed to have a conversation with a bloke more interested in transparency than they are, they should have had it before we all met. It was like getting blood from a stone.

In the end it was agreed that we would get it, but we haven’t had all of them, we weren’t consulted when it went to a monthly rather than a fortnightly report, nor on the template proposed to measure progress, nor on the secret documents containing “cost savings” targets, nor on pretty much anything else.

Given the cloak of secrecy under which the Reference Group operated, it’s hard to be too explicit, but suffice to say there has been no attempt to properly refer matters, nor to consult on a range of things including employment templates; OLG’s decision not to continue investigations into councillors with code of conduct complaints now they were no longer councillors after a merger; the seemingly fruitless and repeated requests for a list of facilitators working for DPC “assisting” councils comply with the Government’s requirements, and that after they did disclose the facilitators, a further one was recruited and that wasn’t disclosed either; complaints emails unanswered and then, yesterday, to find that the Local Government Reform Program Status Report to the end of September had been circulated last week but again, not to the Reference Group.

The continued failure to distribute the Status Report must surely be the last straw.

DPC is the problem here. Seemingly incapable of understanding the concept of what should be referred to the Reference Group, they are also incapable of responding to things like the twelve specific questions in our letter to the Minister for Local Government on the “savings targets” and the two undertakings we have repeatedly sought to allow us to determine whether we should continue to legitimise this facade or whether it will genuinely become a Reference Group to which things are referred by the Government and consulted upon.

You’ve got our letter to the Minister with the twelve questions, the two undertakings we are seeking are:

  • DPC and OLG will provide all information that falls within the Terms of Reference of the Reference Group, in the broadest terms, electronically, to members of the Reference Group between meetings or, if the timeframe is acceptable, at the meetings, and
  • the templates already circulated in the industry, purporting to formalise a transfer of employees who were employees at the time of the proclamations be withdrawn by OLG.

When DPC replied on behalf of the Minister for Local Government in response to our twelve questions, they replied with a broad summary of what they have been doing and didn’t address the twelve questions, one-by-one, as they should have. DPC will argue that in their own obscurantist way they covered off on most of it but there is absolutely no doubt they didn’t answer the question, “why didn’t DPC and OLG consult with the unions on targets that are specifically derived from salary savings and workforce efficiencies prior to reaching agreement with individual councils?”

The next meeting of the Reference Group is scheduled to be held on 29 November. Whether we remain members to attend that meeting will depend on the Government’s response to legitimate concerns about the functioning of the Reference Group and the Government’s own commitment to its Terms of Reference.

Despite the hypocrisy, the Group has assisted in opening doors into OLG and we do have issues about things like the employment provisions of the Act, what to do about senior staff now that the SES has transitioned public servants off term contracts and other issues that mean we should keep the communication channels open. But at what price…

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