4 December 2023

Liberals call for Chief Minister to step in over pay rise for stood-down CIT CEO

| Ian Bushnell
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ACT Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee: pay rise adds insult to injury. Photo: Claire Fenwicke.

A 3.5 per cent pay increase to the stood-down CEO of the Canberra Institute of Technology should be reviewed, according to the Canberra Liberals.

Leader Elizabeth Lee has written to Chief Minister Andrew Barr and the ACT Remuneration Tribunal, calling for a review of the recent decision by the ACT Remuneration Tribunal, which took Leanne Cover’s total package to $373,061 a year.

Ms Cover was stood down in June 2022 while the ACT Integrity Commission investigates $8.5 million worth of CIT contracts with “complexity and systems thinker” Patrick Hollingworth.

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Ms Lee said Ms Cover’s pay increase was not in line with community expectations and should be reviewed immediately.

“The Canberra community is extremely concerned that the stood-down CEO, who has been on paid leave since July 2022, has been awarded a significant pay rise,” Ms Lee said.

“I have written to the Chief Minister and asked him to use his powers under the legislation to write to the ACT Remuneration Tribunal and seek an inquiry to determine the remuneration allowances of the CEO position of the Canberra Institute of Technology as soon as possible.

“Canberra taxpayers have been footing the bill for two CEOs now for nearly 18 months, and this pay rise just adds insult to injury.”

The bill for paying two CEOs is likely more than $700,000 a year.

Ms Cover’s pay increase occurred at the start of this financial year when the independent tribunal raised the salaries of full-time statutory office holders, including the Victims of Crime Commissioner and the CEO of Legal Aid ACT.

At the same time, CIT is paying Melbourne-based Christine Robertson as interim chief executive.

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Ms Lee has also asked Mr Barr and the ACT Remuneration Tribunal to consider recent changes the Commonwealth Remuneration Tribunal made to revoke compensation to Secretaries who have been similarly stood down pending an investigation or have been found to breach the Australian Public Service Code of Conduct.

“I have written to the ACT Remuneration Tribunal to consider similar safeguards that have been put in place by the Commonwealth Remuneration Tribunal to ensure that ACT taxpayers do not find themselves in a similar situation in the future,” Ms Lee said.

“I hope that the ACT Greens and Chief Minister will support this position and also write to the ACT Remuneration Tribunal and recommend similar changes.”

Integrity Commissioner Michael Adams KC told annual report hearings last month that the corruption watchdog was close to releasing the first findings from its investigation into the consultancy contracts awarded to Mr Hollingworth.

Over five years, CIT awarded more than $8.5 million to his companies, ThinkGarden and Redrouge Nominees Pty Ltd, for services including mentoring and organisational transformation.

The last and most significant of those contracts was worth $4.99 million and was signed in March 2022, four months after the Integrity Commission first received a complaint.

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Where’s the accountability of the CIT Board and its Chair? Do they keep their jobs and remuneration? I’m assuming there’s no payrise for them….?

HiddenDragon9:00 pm 05 Dec 23

“Ms Cover was stood down in June 2022 while the ACT Integrity Commission investigates $8.5 million worth of CIT contracts ….”

Since then, at the federal level, the Robodebt Royal Commission and the inquiries into the Morrison multiple ministries and into Pezzullo have come and gone – if there is any “stepping in” to be done it should be over the seemingly glacial progress of this inquiry.

The ACT Integrity Commission is meant to operate with a degree of independence (for obvious reasons), but it is, in the end, just another taxpayer funded creation of the ACT legislature – so unless there are deep and mysterious complexities to this inquiry which are not apparent to the general public, serious questions need to be asked about why this inquiry is taking so long.

For all of you naysayers out there criticising the government for the remuneration tribunal decisions, the Remuneration Tribunal Act 1995 was introduced by the Carnell government. This was at a time when the Canberra Liberals were actually relevant in this town.

This is part of Chief Minister Kate Carnell’s speech when introducing the Bill …

“The Bill also requires the Chief Minister to table the tribunal’s determinations in the Legislative Assembly within six sitting days of receiving them. It does not provide for those determinations to be disallowable. There are several reasons for this. The first is that decisions of an arbitral nature made by other independent bodies such as courts and tribunals are generally not disallowable. Bodies such as these are established specifically to be independent of bureaucratic and political processes, not to be subject to them. Their decisions can always be overridden by legislation in extreme circumstances. The second and related reason is that the power of disallowance is in itself political. “No time is a good time for a politician’s pay rise” – I think we all know that in this place – has been the catchcry. This truism is just as applicable to other senior office-holders. Under this Bill we are proposing a genuinely independent Remuneration Tribunal, not a body to make recommendations on remuneration to the Assembly. We should accept the umpire’s decision as to what is a fair thing.”

I hope you are reading this Kate Carnell! Well said and totally relevant to this debate!

William Newby9:47 pm 04 Dec 23

The contempt with which this has been handled is typical for the ACT.
No one cares, no one is accountable, no one is ever sacked, and regardless Labor know they will get 40% of the votes next years which will be enough to win the election, despite 60% of the ACT not tolerating Labor or its poor management.
What an amazing democracy we have.
Even better is the Greens will get their 10% of the votes and end up calling all the shots, despite 90% of Canberra not voting for them either.
This CIT thing stinks to high hell, millions paid to a Labor buddy for some speeches, two years later there is still an investigation ongoing.
Complex murders have been solved in less time! (just not in the ACT!)..

You’re so right, let’s just put the Liberals in charge even though they only got 34% of the votes and 9/25 seats. Because democracy is only when your party is in power right?

Capital Retro11:20 am 05 Dec 23

But the Greens only have 6 seats but they are the ones in power.

They are in power as the minority party in a coalition. For Labor to pass legislation they need to ensure they have the votes, the Greens (or any party) can request a Bill to be amended in exchange for the votes. Labor can either accept or reject (and the Bill gets scrapped). The options are either to operate in a partnership or simply not pass legislation for the 3 years. Labor (as expected by the voters) decided for option A. Not sure why that’s hard to comprehend. Do you just think a party (either Labor or Liberal) should have full control on which laws are passed and repealed even though they have less than 50% of the seats and votes? Or do you think minority parties in a coalition should simply bend over and vote 100% yes to the major parties even if their voting base wouldn’t agree with the policy?

They’re hoping it goes away until after the election. Why is this still not determined yet. Was the evidence they followed the right practices. one of those practices should be keeping evidence. If there is no evidence that should be case closed that they screwed up.

The only reason it should take this long, is if other people are involved that they don’t want to make public.

The sooner these various “independent” Remuneration Tribunals are done away with the better. Those public servants and politicians covered by such tribunals should have their salary increases tied to the rise and fall of the average basic wage. What’s good for the goose …

How dare they pay a stood down public servant any remuneration let alone give them a payrise. What the hell are they doing if she’s been away for a year and a half. You have got to be joking.

We the taxpayers in the ACT expect this incumbent labour/greens to start doing their job. It’s US that pay for all this waste and I’m bloody sick of their utter incompetence.

Because there haven’t been any findings of misconduct yet. Would you rather we strip their pay, so then they can’t pay their mortgage and buy food for a year and end up homeless, only to be cleared of wrongdoing? I agree the investigation should be given priority status so it’s finalised quickly, but until then they’re innocent until proven guilty. Imagine if you were in this situation and you were confident you did nothing wrong, but you ended up losing everything because your pay was withheld for a year – bet you wouldn’t be happy.

Now that Elizabeth Lee has changed the deck chairs I hope she now presents her party to ACT voters as a viable and credible alternative in advancing political debate than in the past.

Does she not understand what “Independent” and “legislative instruments” mean? Formal decisions and determinations known as legislative instruments made by the Remuneration Tribunal are presented in the Assembly annually. Laws prohibit the Assembly, or the Chief Minister the power to change or reject a determination.

No matter what we think of this decision, Heaven forbid if our parliament or the chief minister started interfering and undermining the decisions of our independent statutory bodies.

Where would it end?

What a nonsense argument. The Leader of the Opposition should have every right to question Remuneration Tribunal decisions when a blatant waste of taxpayer funds is involved such as is the case here. Similarly, all taxpayers should have this right.

Where in my comment did I state that the leader of the opposition does not have a right to question Tribunal decisions? I do however question Ms Lee using the media to publicly criticise and undermine the Remuneration Tribunal in making its decisions.

Ms Lee is also undermining well established laws by demanding that the chief minister intervene and interfere in a formal determination of the Tribunal.

Our parliament has proper legal and governmental processes which prohibit the Assembly, or our Chief Minister the power to intervene, interfere or change or reject a determination.

Jack D, you’ll still vote for the incompetent Lab/Greens though, regardless of what travesties this useless government unleashes on the taxpayer

@Jack D.
“Ms Lee is also undermining well established laws by demanding that the chief minister intervene and interfere in a formal determination of the Tribunal.”

That’s a bit OTT, Jack.

Ms Lee has “… asked Mr Barr and the ACT Remuneration Tribunal to consider recent changes the Commonwealth Remuneration Tribunal made to revoke compensation to Secretaries who have been similarly stood down pending an investigation or have been found to breach the Australian Public Service Code of Conduct.”

It doesn’t seem to me, she is undermining the Tribunal. Ms Lee just made a recommendation for consideration on future Tribunal deliberations.

On the ACT Remuneration Tribunal’s website, prior to the Spring 2023 Sitting, they sought feedback on the remuneration and entitlements of a number of public office holders: “The Tribunal welcomes written submissions about the remuneration, allowances and other entitlements to be paid to the above office holders from interested persons including occupants of the positions, organisations and associations, and members of the community.”

The Remuneration Tribunal Act 1995 states quite clearly that the Tribunal may inform itself in any way it considers appropriate when conducting an inquiry. The Government has no power to reject or change a determination about either their own remuneration or the remuneration of other public officials.

Canberra Liberals leader Elizabeth Lee has made public statements criticising the Tribunal for its recent determination granting the CEO of the CIT a wage increase. There have been no findings of wrongdoing being found against the CEO with the inquiry’s report pending. Ms Lee has also written to the Remuneration Tribunal calling on them to review the decision. She is quite entitled to do this but the Tribunal is clear; formal decisions made by them will not be reviewed, rejected or changed. She is also demanding the government do the same. The government has stated that they will not interfere in Tribunal decision making as it is an independent authority and makes its determinations across the board in an impartial way. As far as I am aware, I can’t remember any other political party interfering in this way in a determination of the Tribunal. I am happy to be proven wrong!

Of course the Tribunal seeks submissions from interested parties when making remuneration decisions for individual public offices. Submissions are displayed on the their website and inform their decisions. Whether an employee has been stood down or is under investigation for breaches has had no bearing on this decision. However, in a recent decision the Commonwealth Remuneration Tribunal made the decision to revoke compensation for public office holders under certain conditions. This includes breaches of the Public Service Act, being found by the National Anti-Corruption Commissioner to have engaged in corrupt activities or recommended for termination. As noted above, there have been no findings of wrongdoing in this CIT contracts inquiry with its findings pending.

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