14 February 2023

Pezzullo blames wider APS for Home Affairs culture problems

| Chris Johnson
Join the conversation
Michael Pezzullo

Home Affairs Secretary Michael Pezzullo. Photo: Screenshot.

There’s at least one person at the Department of Home Affairs who thinks it’s a good place to work and that’s the boss.

Secretary Mike Pezzullo appeared before parliament’s Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit on Friday (10 February) and found himself having to defend his workplace’s culture, as well as some of the department’s contracts and procurement processes.

In an at-times combative session of the committee’s hearings, Mr Pezzullo was grilled over why his department rated so poorly in Australian Public Service Commission reports on staff satisfaction.

The 2022 Census found morale at the agency could be better, with 49 per cent of employees saying they would recommend it as a good place to work, and only 43 per cent saying the department inspired them to do their best work every day.

Staff repeatedly appear to have issues with a lack of autonomy, pay and flexible work options.

READ ALSO Public service getting increasingly ticked off with TikTok

In Friday’s hearing, Mr Pezzullo described the culture in his department as “mixed” and “mission-driven”.

But he blamed wage disparity and fragmentation across the public service as the real cause of low morale.

“I think that there is a wage apartheid that’s emerging in the public service through the fragmentation of pay arrangements that has occurred over about a 10 to 15-year period,” he said.

He told the committee he would like to be able to pay his staff more without having to offset the increases against key mission capability.

“The public service, through a lot of managerialist ideological changes made in the 1990s, has become a much more fragmented body,” Mr Pezzullo said.

“There’s the service delivery operations, the military wing, the field wing, and then there’s other parts.

“I think wages are just really just a symptom of that. You chase talent, you see the departments that can afford to pay for relatively few numbers of people then jacking up the top level of bands, for instance, the top of an EL1, the top of an EL2.”

He also said he had to make a “devil’s choice” when asked about his department’s $1.5 billion people-smuggling surveillance contract – which has cost taxpayers more than $400 million more than first agreed.

READ ALSO DEWR and Education hope new building will attract staff back to office

Mr Pezzullo admitted the contract was not best practice, but that his hands were tied.

“The funding model is fundamentally deficient,” he said.

“I either go to government and say, I actually am going to terminate this contract because I’m concerned about value for money … to which the government then says OK, but we don’t have a detention capability or we don’t have a coastal vessel fleet capability, we don’t have a maritime surveillance capability…

“Well, then I’m only left with one tool, which is contract variations and extensions. It’s a devil’s choice.”

The secretary took issue with the Australian National Audit Office reporting serious recurring problems with his department’s procurement practices, saying “people who work in offices in Canberra” had written the reports.

“I’m not going to accept the characterisation of endemic underperformance,” Mr Pezzullo said.

“We don’t necessarily agree with the conclusions of the ANAO.”

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments

So from someone who was actually at the table, Pezullo’s words are hollow. This is his best attempt to rewrite the history of his one and only failed attempt to bargain with his staff. Anyone can read the FWC Full Bench decision on arbitration that produced the first non-collective agreement in a generation (the Protective Service Officers were the last agency in 1996 under Howard to have such a determination, then called an MX Award).
He made three sub standard offers to his staff all rejected with votes of 91, 81 and 82%, a record for any agency in the history of bargaining. But he had an opportunity to avoid the whole show by writing to the Minister For Industrial Relations to exempt his staff from the bargaining framework; he refused. No mention of that by either side, nor by the man himself. But it’s all there on the public record if you know where to look.
History, just like karma, has a habit of catching up with you. As it did in this week of Estimates and will again; I have no doubt!

This is the mega-department assembled from broken, contradictory pieces to satisfy the egos of Dutton and Pezzullo. Component agencies have had workplace issues for decades, mostly from administering political playthings rather than being left alone to deliver quality programs. It’s no wonder it’s breaking up and breaking down.

Not that they’re going to read these comments, and if they do they won’t care: but the culture at this department is woeful. A band of bureaucrats and numbskulls. Stilted. Oppressive. Inhuman. A toxic, robotic embarrassment of a department where staff who have been there for years keep climbing the ranks simply because they’ve survived like the Hunger Games, not because they’re necessarily the most competent.

To uphold a “just and secure” society under Home Affairs “leadership” Is laughable (and worrying).

Home Affairs should be immediately disbanded, and it’s roles shifted back to Attorney General’s and to a much smaller Immigration group.

HiddenDragon8:34 pm 13 Feb 23

APS pay fragmentation started under the Keating government’s enterprise bargaining system, but was given a very big kick along under Howard – along with an increasing tendency for APS managers to say things like “key mission capability” rather than, for instance, “ability to get the job done”.

To be fair to both of those governments, what is now seen as vexing fragmentation began as an attempt to allow agencies to respond to worsening recruitment and retention problems under the former unified/one-size-fits all pay scales. As so often happens, things were taken too far and any prospect of a happy medium between rigidity and chaos was lost.

I think the pale stale males need to do some soul searching instead of continually bagging out the APS who have been functioning at a third capacity for nearly a decade. It is nothing to do with wage disparity and everything to do with the functions of Home Affairs.

Geoffrey Miller4:08 pm 13 Feb 23

When I joined the APS in 1980 it functioned as a unified entity, managed through the Public Service Board. This provided uniform conditions across departments, but also encouraged staff mobility and transfer of relevant expertise, which was more common than might be thought. This was destroyed by John Howard in the name of his neoliberal ideology — another failure for which he can be blamed. I don’t know if it would now be possible to return to that system, but it would be worth investigating.

People don’t want to work there and it has nothing to do with the pay. Nor is it about public service fragmentation.

People don’t want to be in a hostile hierarchical militaristic macho environment, nor doing the type of work for which the organisation is best known. It harms people.

Is this the same guy who used to “collar” people in the cafeteria about wearing jeans. Hmm not my idea of a leader.

Stephen Saunders10:47 am 13 Feb 23

He was the one that pushed so hard for the unwieldy mega department. Half of which does border-cop to the max. While the other half fast-tracks unchecked rivers of migration with slack scrutiny.

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.