Criticism levelled at LVA appointment

Chris Buckingham. file photograph

Michelle Slater

The state government is defending its appointment of a second Latrobe Valley Authority (LVA) chief executive officer with links to the Labor party.

The Andrews Government recently named former Labor candidate Chris Buckingham to take the reins of the LVA next year, replacing outgoing CEO Karen Cain.

Mr Buckingham stood for the seat of McMillan in the 2016 federal election, while Ms Cain was a former president of the South Gippsland Labor Party branch.

But Nationals Member for Eastern Victoria Melina Bath has accused the state government of appointing the job to a local “Labor mate”.

“It’s extraordinary that the government has appointed another Labor mate to this position, but unfortunately we are not surprised,” Ms Bath said.

“It is not lost on the community that there seems to be more focus on employment for Labor party members than ongoing jobs for the people of the Latrobe Valley.”

The LVA was formed in 2016 to help the region transition after the closure of Hazelwood, but its funding is due to expire on June 30 next year after it was initially funded for four years.

A Parliament Public Accounts and Estimates Committee recently showed that the LVA spent all its grant funding in the past financial year.

“I am very alarmed that the government appears to be winding down the LVA at a time unemployment is edging up to post-Hazelwood levels,” Ms Bath said.

Member for Morwell Russell Northe questioned the transparency of the recruitment process, stating he would be asking for more information from the government around the appointment.

“This is not about Chris being the right person for the job, but what are the circumstances around his appointment?” Mr Northe said.

“The position was advertised for the first CEO, but I don’t recall the position being advertised this time. Was he headhunted? Why didn’t we know the former CEO’s term was coming to a conclusion?”

According the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions, public sector employees are recruited under the principles and standards set out in the Public Administration Act.

It means incoming public service leaders must declare potential conflicts of interest, which is updated annually, through a process overseen by a government department integrity branch.

The department stated it was “common practice” to advertise and recruit senior roles when an executive contract nears completion, with Mr Buckingham appointed via a merit-based process.

A Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions spokesperson said Mr Buckingham’s recruitment process was led by an independent executive search firm on behalf of the department.

“A panel, including departmental representatives and an independent member oversaw the interview process,” the spokesperson said.

“The Victorian government remains committed to the LVA and this new appointment comes at a critical time for the authority as it looks to the region’s needs into the future.”