By Michael Giles
THE article which appeared on the front page of the South Gippsland Sentinel-Times last week ‘Buckley’s best – why Bass Coast is looking like Latrobe City’ has attracted quite a lot of interest both locally and over in the Latrobe Valley.
The key premise of the article was a question raised by former Wonthaggi Mayor, Alan Brown: “Is it conceivable that almost all of the best candidates for the shire’s top management roles are coming from the one municipality, Latrobe City?”
He was referring to the fact that of the eight executives recruited by Bass Coast since the arrival of Mr Buckley, six have come from Latrobe City (including Mr Buckley).
Mr Brown said he didn’t believe it was plausible that Latrobe City could provide almost all of the best candidates for the roles. Mr Buckley said it was.
“We appoint people based on merit to ensure the best person for the job is recruited. The recruitment of staff is undertaken through open and transparent processes.”
The Sentinel-Times has received a lot of feedback following the publication of the article.
We’ve had phone calls from Latrobe City ‘whistleblowers’, from members of Phillip Island’s Standalone group and from local community members who have raised their concerns.
There has also been comment made by Bass Coast Councillor, Phil Wright, to the effect that he doesn’t believe it’s a healthy situation.
In fact, according to the Latrobe City whistleblowers who contacted us, it’s just this issue, the questionable recruitment of staff, that was at the root of a toxic culture at Latrobe City which was investigated by the Fair Work Commission, the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC) and the Victorian Ombudsman in 2012-2013.
In the end, the complaints officially came to nothing, although an article which appeared in the Latrobe Valley Express on October 17, 2014 wraps up the divisive, 19-month episode pretty well. It can still be accessed on line.
The point is, why take the risk?
It’s ‘Management Practice 101’ to eliminate or minimise risk and quite apart from raising the reasonable question of how so many management roles can be going to former colleagues of Mr Buckley at Latrobe City, there’s also the issue of minimising risk.
The whistleblower who spoke to the Sentinel-Times also left us with a warning that the whistleblower policies adopted by councils, including Bass Coast, in reality offered no protection whatsoever to employees who discovered questionable practices.
He claimed they would only be victimised if they came forward and were therefore unlikely to do so.
No one is suggesting anything untoward has occurred at Bass Coast or could in the future but it would be prudent to follow best practice, recruit widely and avoid risk with future appointments.