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REVEALED: Staff, budget cuts as Environment Dept becomes "new agency"


The state’s Department of Environment and Water will become primarily an “economic development agency” that will be forced to operate with “less staff and smaller budgets” under a major restructure announced to staff yesterday.

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The timing of the shift is ironic, with today’s release of a scathing Royal Commission report into the management of the River Murray, itself critical of Environment and Water Minister David Speirs.

Chief executive John Schutz – who replaced former boss Sandy Pitcher, one of four top bureaucrats axed by the incoming Marshall Government last March – yesterday wrote to staff telling them they would be “transitioning to a new agency”.

“I hope you all managed some downtime over Christmas and New Year, and have come back recharged,” Shutz wrote in an staff bulletin seen by InDaily.

“In 2019 we face the challenge and opportunity of transitioning to a new agency.”

He detailed a “new DEW Structure, including our new divisions and branches, and the relevant leaders”, to operate from July 1.

“In undertaking this work, I want everyone to be very clear that we will have less staff and smaller budgets,” he wrote.

“This will require us to do things differently, and will profoundly affect how we operate as an agency, including potential reduction or ceasing of functions.”

September’s state budget detailed a reduction in full-time employees in the department, from 1510.9 in 2017-18 to 1400.9 this financial year.

Ironically, Speirs has long railed against departmental cuts while in Opposition, saying in 2014: “I have a long-term interest in environmental protection and have been very disconcerted with the savage cuts which are unfolding and have unfolded over several years in the environment department.”

In 2017, he told parliament the environment department “has endured cuts at every budget for the last decade… a catastrophic decline.”

Schutz’s missive went on to warn staff that “challenging the way we do things will take courage, commitment, and collaboration”.

“As you go about rethinking your team structures and delivery models, I’d like you to consider these three key shifts for our agency,” he wrote, before a series of dot-points, the first of which states: “We are an economic development agency.”

“We balance environmental protection with economic development – this means we contribute to our state’s economy by driving sustainable economic development, and unlocking the potential of our natural and heritage resources.”

The department is also “client-focused” and “an effective regulator”, he stipulated.

The department will be split into five divisions – Boards and Councils; Strategy, Science and Corporate Services; National Parks and Wildlife; Water and River Murray; and Sustainable Economic Development.

“This revised divisional structure strongly reflects the Government’s priorities and reform agenda… it will enable us to deliver more efficiently and effectively for South Australia,” writes Schutz.

He concludes with the observation: “I know change can be challenging”, asking staff to “please look out for your colleagues and remember that our Employee Assistance Program is here to help”.

“Thank you and take care,” he writes.

Insiders have told InDaily staff had been told it was hoped federal funding would be forthcoming to bolster the department’s operations, after what appeared to be more cuts in the last state budget.

It’s understood many staff are up in arms about the cultural “shift” to an “economic development agency”, as well as the mooted cuts.

It comes as the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure undertakes a similar restructure under a new CEO which, as InDaily reported yesterday, appears to have prompted the departure of one of the agency’s most senior bureaucrats.

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