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Politicisation of Victoria’s public service under review

Gary Blackwood says native forestry has borne the brunt of decisions by Lily D’Ambrosio’s department

The Andrews Government’s treatment of the native forest industry shows why the Ombudsman’s investigation of the politicisation of the public service is so necessary, according to Narracan MP Gary Blackwood. Source: Philip Hopkins for Timberbiz

The Ombudsman announced the investigation in May after the Legislative Council in February passed a motion on various matters, including ‘the politicisation of the public service’.

The first part of the investigation on the ‘Red Shirts scheme’ has just been completed, but Part 2, ‘covering other matters’, is being undertaken by Professor John McMillan AO. Professor McMillan is a past Commonwealth Ombudsman, has never worked in Victoria and “brings an open mind to the issues under investigation”, the Victorian Ombudsman said.

Mr Blackwood, the Opposition’s forestry spokesman, said the native forest industry had borne the brunt of the impact of decisions taken and lack of action by the Environment Minister, Lily D’Ambrosio and her department.

“The culture of her department has been underpinned by political appointments facilitated by (former Environment Minister) Gavin Jennings before his retirement,” he said.

Earlier this year, The Weekly Times reported that DJPR Forestry and Climate Change policy and regulation director Nathan Lambert was the ALP’s former assistant national secretary and a member of its Geelong West branch as of late last year. DJPR is the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions.

Last December, Mr Lambert gained preselection as the ALP’s candidate for Preston, an electorate that Labor is fighting to defend against the Greens. The native forest industry and the formation of a new Great Forests National Park are set to be key issues.

The Weekly Times also reported that the current DELWP forest policy director, Lindsay Rayner, was another long-term ALP member, joining the Northcote branch in 2003 and moving to the Reservoir branch, which is within the Preston electorate. He was a forestry adviser to Mr Jennings, and now The Times believed, one of the Government’s gatekeepers on forestry issues.

As well, the newspaper reported, the former head of DJPR’s Forest Industry Strategy group, Tim Sonnreich, who held the position from December 2018 to April 2020, was a long-time active member of the ALP’s Brunswick branch and now worked as Ms D’Ambrosio’s chief of staff.

“The Weekly Times is not suggesting any of these department staff have behaved inappropriately,” the newspaper said.

A Victorian government spokesman told The Times that “all appointments, including executives, were based on merit and in line with the Public Administration Act 2004”.

“All employees have an obligation under the Code of Conduct to remain impartial and apolitical in the course of their work,” the spokesman said.

Mr Blackwood said these public service issues were compounded by the relationship between Ms D’Ambrosio’s office and environmental activists. “Minister D’Ambrosio has provided an ‘open door’ policy in her association with the Wilderness Society, pseudo scientists and others who share her agenda of ending native timber harvesting,” he said.

Mr Blackwood said this policy would trash thousands of jobs, starve the construction industry of vital supplies and promote the importation of timber products from unsustainable overseas sources. “It is an absolute disgrace,” he said.