Minister Niall Blair has defended the pay packets of Local Land Services’ bigwigs after a new $323,000 per-year head honcho job was created - and a $125,000 part-time chair of chairs role retained - in parliament this week.
Amendments to the LLS Act on Wednesday created a yet-to-be-appointed LLS chief executive, who will oversee the service’s $220 million budget and sit above part-time chair of chairs Richard Bull, as well as the 11 part-time regional LLS chairs, who are on $60,000 each.
LLS board members, who are paid $20,000 per year, have also had their terms extended from three to four years - something the Greens were not happy about.
Opposition said the chair of chairs salary, in particular, “failed the pub test”, with insinuations some ministers would be envious of the chief executive’s package.
“The average wage of some people in places such as Crowther is about $20,000 a year,” Labor’s ag spokesman Mick Veitch said.
“Go and tell them that the part-time chair of the LLS Board will be paid about $143,000 (sic) or stand in Macquarie Street and tell people that is what is going to happen.”
“A steaming bucket of excrement”
In farming circles, LLS is never far away from the headlines and provokes a mixed reception from farmers.
Opposition primary industries spokesman Mick Veitch went as far to suggest on Wednesday Mr Blair “walked into his brand new office as Minister and on the table was a steaming bucket of excrement marked LLS”.
But Mr Blair is always quick to defend the service and its ability to deliver for farmers - with the service playing a crucial role in the roll-out of the Coalition’s biosecurity and biodiversity reforms.
However, Labor said the changes passed this week showed government was spending too much on governance and executive, at the expense of on-ground LLS jobs.
Locust funding guarantee
Meanwhile, Greens ag spokesman Jeremy Buckingham said amendments allowing cash from the $24 million locust levy fund to be used on other pest animals was "creative accounting" to hide a reduction in funding for pest management.
Minister Blair denied this was the case, and said residual funding for other pests would be less in years where there is a locust plague event, with the Treasurer also able to top the fund up in the event of an outbreak.
The Greens also wanted the chair of chairs position be appointed by the department secretary in the future, and not the minister, to remove what they alleged was a “Jock Laurie clause” and “jobs for the boys and patronage for National Party loyalists”.
“Rubbish,” Nats MLC Rick Colless said at this suggestion.
Mr Blair said allowing the minister to appoint the role provided independence from the operational role of the chief executive.
Mr Colless said extending board members’ terms to four years added greater stability to the job and allowed for elections to be better staggered.
Part-time chair of chairs to get $125,000
Budget estimates information brandished by Labor shows former LLS chair of chairs Tim de Mestre - who resigned in May after a year in the job - was on $320,876.
His role then went part time, and was filled by former Nationals Upper House member Richard Bull, who was paid $143,135 per annum, until Wednesday’s amendments, which see his pay capped at $125,000.
Local Land Services executive director David Witherdin is acting LLS chief executive.
Earlier this year, the Opposition revealed that corporate services budget within LLS had almost tripled to $4 million up from $1.3 million in 2013.
Mr Blair said the remuneration was in accordance with the NSW Government Boards and Committee's Classification and Remuneration Framework.
“When working to attract the right people, who have the right skills and experience at leading organisations at the strategic level, it is important to recognise that the Chair of the Local Land Services Board is responsible for ensuring delivery of statewide priorities in accordance with the Local Land Services Strategic Plan and Charter Letter from the Minister,” he said.