30 August 2022

Former Labor Minister rejects improper hiring implications

| Lottie Twyford
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Gordon Ramsay

Former Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay has hit back at any assertions he was involved in improper hiring processes. Photo: Region.

Former ACT Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay has denied he was involved in an improper hiring process when his former chief of staff was appointed to a newly created job at the Cultural Facilities Corporation (CFC).

Minister for the Arts Tara Cheyne also faced questions from the Canberra Liberals in estimates earlier this week about Mr Ramsay’s own appointment to the chief executive role.

Both denied any implication rules had been broken in the hiring processes and Ms Cheyne said questions related to the hiring process would be better directed to senior public servants.

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Mr Ramsay, a former Labor member for Ginninderra, held the roles of Attorney-General and Arts Minister, among other portfolios, from 2016 to 2020.

He was appointed to the position of chief executive at the CFC in late 2021 following the retirement of its founding head Harriet Elvin.

At the time, the CFC said Mr Ramsay’s appointment was the culmination of a national recruitment process with more than 20 applications from high calibre local and national candidates.

Ms Cheyne was asked if she had received any communication from her one-time colleague before his appointment.

She said he had sent her a text message to say he would be applying for the role, to which she thought she responded, “thank you for letting me know”.

Tara Cheyne

Arts Minister Tara Cheyne said the hiring of Mr Ramsay was a matter for the public service as it was not a ministerial appointment. Photo: Region.

The Arts Minister could not remember exactly with whom she had discussed the text message.

“It was over a year ago. I expect I would have told my chief of staff, but I do not think there is anything unusual about Mr Ramsay informing me. I think he was doing it as a courtesy,” she told the hearing.

Ms Cheyne distanced herself from the hiring process, noting it had been a public service appointment, not a ministerial one, so questions would be better directed to the public service.

ACT public service head Kathy Leigh will appear in budget estimates next week.

She sat on the selection panel which hired Mr Ramsay, along with then-board chair Justice Richard Refshauge and former National Library director-general Anne-Marie Schwirtlich.

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In estimates, Mr Ramsay was later questioned about how his former chief of staff of four years had come to work at the CFC in a new position, once again as chief of staff.

He said he had discussed creating the position with outgoing CEO Ms Elvin, who said such a role could be needed.

Mr Ramsay could not remember having spoken to his former chief of staff about the position, instead saying he had been “confident” the role would draw in a high calibre of applicants.

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Opposition spokesperson for arts Nicole Lawder questioned why the position had only been advertised online for one week in January 2021 – a period she described as “quiet”.

“It was moved quickly [because] the gap in the leadership team was something that was creating flow-on effects right through the organisation,” he said.

Mr Ramsay had finalised the position description for the role, he confirmed. He said this was the usual process.

When questioned, Mr Ramsay said he had declared a conflict of interest in relation to the successful applicant. He did sit on the interview panel for the two shortlisted applicants.

Nicole Lawder

Opposition spokesperson for arts Nicole Lawder said there were questions about the appointment of Mr Ramsay’s former chief of staff to a new role in the CFC. Photo: Region.

Ms Lawder said there needed to be full transparency about the appointments.

“The fact the role was newly created, open for applications for just one week in early January and filled by Mr Ramsay’s former chief of staff rings alarm bells,” Ms Lawder said.

“There are serious questions regarding this appointment, especially when it comes to the fairness of the recruitment process.”

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If I was on the selection panel an applicant had a referee’s report from a sitting politician (or worse still, their mate and boss, a politician was on the panel sitting right next to me), I would consider it a ‘career delimiting move’ not to hire that person who had those political ties. How can politicians say that they are hands-off when this sort of thing happens. It just smells bad.

Absolutely! A very nice set up for the intended person.

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