Community Services Bears Brunt of Staff Numbers

After years of crisis and reform, just what priority is the O’Farrell Government going to give to Family and Community Services?

The most astonishing feature of the staff allocations by far has the Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister for Women, Pru Goward, with the smallest office with only 4.4 staff positions. This is made up of a Chief of Staff, an advisor and 2.4 researchers/advisors at the lower end of the grade scale.

Goward’s responsible for a massive department, fraught with challenges and risks. The implementation of a gamut of reforms brought about by a Commission of Inquiry into a series of crises in community services is continuing. Even though, the major focus of the current round of reforms is to move foster care towards community based providers, the buck will still stop with her.

Of the many perplexities is that the portfolio of Ageing and Disability somehow merits a larger allocation than Family and Community Services.

This truly “skin and bones” allocation is further complicated in that just last night, her media advisor, Simon Fontana, was elected as President of the NSW Young Liberals.

I guess when your boss has decades of experience in journalism, lectured in broadcast journalism, acted as a media consultant and won a Walkley, you can leave her unadvised for an hour now and again, but all the same …..

What makes the Goward allocation all the more astonishing are the allocations made to the two most junior Ministers: Victor Dominello and Graham Annesley, neither of whom have previously held ministerial or shadow ministerial office. (In fact, Annesley was first elected to Parliament at the March election).

Dominello, (who seems to have risen completely without trace), is the Minister for  Citizenship and Communities, and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, and has been given 7 staffers.

Dominello has been given as many staffers as the likes of the Treasurer and the Minister for Police. In fact, aside from the Premier and Deputy Premier, only the portfolios of Health, Transport, Attorney General and Justice, Education, and Finance and Services merit more staffers than Dominello.

Of course, there may have been a rush to be on Dominello’s staff. He is renowned as a considerate boss, having signed off on a staffer’s request that she be allowed to play a Facebook game to zone out while talking to constituents on the phone.

Annesley, a former NRL administrator and referee, and now (naturally) Minister for Sport and Recreation, has in turn been allocated 6 staffers.

If you look at the seniority and responsibilities for both Dominello and Annesley, you’re not looking at major or complex policy, legislative, administrative or media challenges.

Basically, these complementary ministries, with stacks of ceremonies, cheque handovers and that sort of thing, primarily constitute the foundation of the (any) Government’s grass roots management. But even this has to take into account that six Ministers in this Cabinet, including the Premier, have taken on distinct Ministerial portfolios for particular regions.

So it’s remarkable that, taken in combination, these two (junior, neophyte) Ministers have more staffers available to them than (taken together) the Ministers for Planning, Infrastructure, Environment and Heritage  or the Ministers for Primary Industries, Small Business, Resources and Energy and Special Minister of State.

They might be starting on the bottom rungs but they sure as heck have been given a hell of a boost. Goward must be wondering where she might get her boost.

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