State Government ‘passes the buck’

APPREHENSION over the future of up to 70 Gippsland Department of Education workers has been raised in State Parliament, with State Opposition MPs blasting the government over its “unbelievable” response to the issue.

Addressing parliament after The Express reported staff at the Moe-based Department of Early Education and Childhood Development were worried workforce numbers could be reduced from 70 to as few as four or five – as part of the government’s Sustainable Government reforms – two MPs criticised State Higher Education and Skills and Teaching Profession Minister Peter Hall for “passing the buck” to his department.

When asked about potential mass job losses from the regional office earlier this month, a spokesperson for Mr Hall had said the minister would not comment on what was “purely a departmental matter” while a DEECD departmental spokesperson said a restructure of the department had not yet been finalised and no decisions had been made about future staff numbers.

Mr Hall’s response was attacked by both State Opposition spokesperson James Merlino and State Member for Eastern Region Matt Viney last week.

Mr Merlino told parliament the Moe DEECD office provided “all the support services for the Latrobe Valley and general Gippsland region, such as disability support work, reading recovery, (and) welfare offices…”

He accused Mr Hall, “as lead minister for the Department of Education”, of failing to take responsibility for a restructure local sources claimed could make the office “little more than a facade or shop front”.

Referring to any potential job losses as a “decision for the department” was “absolutely unbelievable,” Mr Merlino said.

“I do not believe that any competent minster of the Crown would allow such substantial decisions… to be purely a departmental decision, not involving a minister,” he said.

Mr Merlino also challenged government claims frontline jobs would not be cut as part of its current reforms.

“We are led to believe that none of these people provide frontline services delivery, that the minister is happy for the department to sack 66 people, or shift them off to Dandenong where the new regional office will be, and that there will be no impact on frontline services,” he said.

Mr Viney also told Parliament he had asked Premier Ted Baillieu to rule out cutting up to 70 Gippsland DEECD workers but “his pathetic 68-word response mentioned and passed the buck to the department three times”.

A DEECD spokesperson told The Express consultation over the Gippsland DEECD restructure had been “open” and staff feedback was being considered before the department finalised its structure – expected to be announced shortly.

Meanwhile Mr Merlino, referring to comments made in August by Mr Hall that the government would not close the Moe DEECD office, called for a senior departmental officer to come before an upper house committee to “test the veracity of the minister’s statement”.