4 September 2022

'Uncomfortable' public service head faces 'unusual' questions on former Labor Minister's appointment to CEO role

| Lottie Twyford
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Gordon Ramsay

Former Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay was hired to head up the Cultural Facilities Corporation last year. Photo: Region.

The Canberra Liberals have continued to question the appointment of a former Labor minister to head the Cultural Facilities Corporation, this time directing their questions to the head of the ACT Public Service.

In budget estimates on Monday (29 August) an at-times “uncomfortable” Kathy Leigh said all proper hiring processes had been followed.

Former ACT Attorney-General and Arts Minister Gordon Ramsay was appointed chief executive at the CFC in late 2021 following the retirement of its founding head Harriet Elvin.

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Last week, the Opposition questioned Arts Minister Tara Cheyne about Mr Ramsay being offered the job.

Ms Cheyne distanced herself from the hiring process, saying it was a public service appointment, not a ministerial one. She encouraged the Canberra Liberals to question Ms Leigh instead.

She did reveal she had received a text message from her former colleague 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.

On Tuesday (30 August), Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee asked Ms Leigh to talk the hearing through the timeline of Mr Ramsay’s appointment.

Ms Elvin signalled her intention to resign early so the CEO role was advertised in June 2021, months before her departure in November that year.

Twenty-four applications were received before the deadline of 20 June. The selection panel then met in mid-July to shortlist these applicants down to seven.

Ms Leigh believed all seven of these shortlisted applicants had been interviewed, but she said she would confirm this in case someone had dropped out.

She said she could not “recall” having been made aware of the text message Mr Ramsay had sent to Ms Cheyne to let her know he would be applying for the role as the first time she had heard of his application was when she received them.

The head of service said she had discussed the approach to the hiring for the role with Ms Cheyne as that is required under legislation. She also consulted with her after the panel came to its final recommendation, which was unanimous.

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Many of the questions asked by Ms Lee were taken on notice, including what specific skills Mr Ramsay had which qualified him for the role.

She also took on notice a request to provide a copy of the selection criteria for the job.

“Obviously, we were looking for a breadth of expertise. It’s the head of an organisation. Cred in the subject area is important but so is the broader capacity to lead an organisation,” Ms Leigh said.

Ms Leigh went on to say she would take these questions on notice as it was “unusual” to be questioned by a committee on a public service appointment.

She said she felt “uncomfortable” providing further information as she was not sure what more she could say.

“The panel looked at every candidate objectively and what they could bring to the role.”

Ms Leigh said she did not believe Mr Ramsay’s experience and skills gained as a minister should be discounted but did not believe he had benefited from it.

Elizabeth Lee

Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee said the appointment of Mr Ramsay did not pass the pub test. Photo: Region Media.

Ms Lee was dismissive of the explanations provided by Ms Leigh, saying the appointment didn’t pass “the pub test” based on what parts of Mr Ramsay’s CV were public knowledge.

“It is hard to accept that the CEO whose only previous experience was a Church Minister, Labor Minister for one term, and CEO of Alliance for Gambling Reform for six months was the preferred candidate following a national selection process,” she said.

“A number of questions were taken on notice and we look forward to receiving those, but the Canberra community deserves full transparency when it comes to this high-profile appointment.”

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I think comparisons with Barilaro are a tad unfair. Kippax Uniting Care is a pretty substantial operation and my understanding is GR had a fair bit to do with driving and running that, plus he’s an intelligent and generally decent bloke who would probably be as good as anyone in the job.

Was he appointed on merit? I hope so. But as Flashman noted, while people appointed via nepotism are generally incompetent, those appointed on their qualifications and merit are almost always incompetent too. Either way, I doubt GR will be incompetent.

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