SES boss axed deputy on the spot: inquiry

NSW State Emergency Services Commissioner Murray Kear sacked the organisation’s deputy head on the spot, despite being advised against such action, a corruption inquiry heard yesterday.

The Independent Commission Against Corruption heard yesterday that Mr Kear was told that it was usual practice to engage in a process of ‘‘affording procedural fairness’’ when it came to removing executive officers.

Mr Kear was given this advice by the NSW Public Service Commissioner Graeme Head at a meeting in Sydney on May 8 this year.

The SES boss went to see Mr Head to seek advice on removing one of the organisation’s two deputy commissioners because of a ‘‘toxic’’ dispute between them.

Six days after the meeting, Mr Kear dismissed Deputy Commissioner Tara McCarthy – now an ICAC whistleblower – on the basis he had lost confidence in her.

Counsel assisting ICAC, Michael Fordham, SC, said Ms McCarthy was not given any  warning or notice and no real opportunity to respond. A taxi was called shortly afterwards to take her home.

Mr Head gave evidence at the inquiry that Mr Kear came to see him about the intended dismissal.

Mr Head said he told Mr Kear that removing an executive officer involved a process which at a minimum should include advising the concerned officer of the intent to remove them and afford that person an opportunity to make a submission. That submission should then be considered before any decision was made.

Mr Head also suggested to Mr Kear that he should contact the Ombudsman before any action was taken, because the nature of some of the complaints may have been Public Interest Disclosure Act related matters.

‘‘I told him he should take account of the fact that there is a well-established approach relating to the removal of executive officers and I then raised the issues about public interest disclosures,’’ Mr Head said.

The inquiry heard that Mr Kear later indicated he had spoken to the Deputy Ombudsman.

Asked by Mr Fordham whether Ms McCarthy’s removal conformed to the advice given to Mr Kear, Mr Head said: ‘‘I formed a view that it didn’t on the basis that it appeared to happen in a form that I would describe as a summary removal, no formal notification in writing of an intent to remove and no reasonable timeframe within which to make a submission in respect of that intent and subsequently no reasonable timeframe to consider any issues raised in such a submission.’’

Mr Fordham then asked Mr Head if there were other options for disciplinary action for senior staff that didn’t involve removal.

‘‘Yes, removal is obviously the most extreme measure but there are other measures that people can take in relation to performance management, in relation to counselling, and in relation to disciplinary measures,’’ Mr Head said.

ICAC is examining allegations that Mr Kear fired Ms McCarthy from her position in reprisal for her making corruption allegations against fellow SES Deputy Commissioner Steven Pearce.

The inquiry heard  that Mr Kear and Mr Pearce were friends whose families holidayed together.

ICAC is also examining whether Mr Kear improperly showed favour to Mr Pearce by failing to appropriately investigate Ms McCarthy’s allegations.

It is also alleged that Mr Kear made false statements to ICAC officers.

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