24 December 2008

Ministerial accountability?

Today Michael Owen in The Advertiser/Adelaide Now reports on some discrepancies between a state government minister's statements and official records:

Families Minister Jennifer Rankine, under fire for using a consultant to help with her new portfolio, had 19 full-time personal staff to assist her, a government document shows

This is despite official 2008-09 Budget papers for Ministerial Office Resources stating Ms Rankine had 10 full-time equivalent staff, with a budget of $1.26 million.

A confidential government document obtained by the Opposition under Freedom of Information laws reveals Ms Rankine actually had 19 full-time personal staff. Among those listed as working in her office are a chief of staff, three ministerial officers, a media adviser, five ministerial liaison officers, and seven administrative staff.

Consultant Margaret Wagstaff completed a four-month contract, worth $80,000, in the minister's office on December 11.

Liberal Upper House MP Rob Lucas yesterday said Ms Rankine was either "extraordinarily wasteful of taxpayers' money or needs a lot of help".

"Minister Rankine should now explain why she has claimed to have only 10 FTE staff when in reality she has almost double that number," Mr Lucas, who obtained the FoI document, said.

"It is incomprehensible that a minister with so many personal staff to help her to be a minister should then have to spend $80,000 of taxpayers' money on a consultant to help her."

Ms Wagstaff is the partner of Philip Bentley, a long-time friend of Premier Mike Rann. Together they receive about $100,000 a year of taxpayers' money for government board and committee appointments. Ms Wagstaff last week was appointed to yet another committee position by the Premier, as chair of the Boundary Adjustment Facilitation Panel, for two years. She will be paid $190 a meeting.

A spokesman for Ms Rankine yesterday said she has 17 staff, including a trainee, for five portfolios, including the new Northern Suburbs portfolio.

Ms Wagstaff could not be contacted for comment.

The consultant story was first reported earlier this month .

All above board? These kind of matters often appear to be swept under the carpet here. Raising the issue again on Christmas Eve will restrict public discussion.

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