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'Toxic, hostile, unsafe': Workplace culture blasted as planning agency seeks cuts

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EXCLUSIVE | The state’s Planning agency says it’s investigating claims aired in an explosive all-staff email from a senior employee that a poor workplace culture had fostered a “toxic, hostile and unsafe” work environment, as the department embarks on a new round of staff cuts.

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Senior planning staff have been asked to “show moral courage… and call out poor workplace culture, unacceptable behaviours, and call for some semblance of good leadership”, in a remarkable show of defiance amid a restructure that appears to result in an increase in management level staff but an overall reduction of nine people.

Planning and Land Use [PLUS] was shifted from the former Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure last year after the resignation of former minister Stephan Knoll, and brought under the auspices of the Attorney-General’s Department.

It had been dogged by workplace concerns in the lead-up to the launch of this year’s Planning reforms, with several agency leaders departing and the bureaucrat handpicked to oversee the Marshall Government’s e-Planning overhaul sanctioned over the arbitrary sacking of a contractor.

InDaily can reveal the Planning and Development section of the agency is now embarking on a fresh round of cuts, which will see the workforce slashed from 71 FTEs to 62.

However, there appears to be an increase in management-level staff, according to an organisational chart of the proposed changes seen by InDaily.

In response to the changes, and apparent ongoing concerns, one Team Leader, experienced bureaucrat and strategic planner Deniz Kilic, fired off an email to the organisation’s email list late last week, entitled “Calling out Concerning Workplace Culture & Poor Leadership Behaviours at AGD PLUS Planning and Development”.

In the email, seen by InDaily, Kilic – who has been with the department since May last year after a career in both private and public sectors in NSW – says he has been “disheartened, then dismayed and finally disgusted by my observations and personal experiences of the workplace culture …and have recently raised my concerns formally with AGD HR and our chief executive”.

He begins by telling his colleagues: “It has been a pleasure working with many of you over the past year… your dedication to the communities we serve is a source of great pride and inspiration.”

“Former Australian Chief of Army Lieutenant General David Morrison once said ‘the standard you walk past is the standard you accept’ [and] I choose not to walk past what I have observed and experienced at AGD PLUS Planning & Development over the past year,” he writes.

“As many of you know, I am a great advocate of a healthy workplace culture, in keeping with our AGD and public service values and statutory expectations under workplace laws.”

Kilic, who did not respond to numerous inquiries from InDaily today, said his observations of the culture was that it creates “a toxic, hostile and unsafe workplace for many members of staff of all ranks”.

“Disturbingly, we have not seen any acknowledgment to start addressing workplace culture issues and poor behaviours even after the intensive reform program wrapped up earlier in the year,” he said.

“Many of you and former colleagues have reached out to me to share deeply unsettling workplace experiences… I acknowledge your individual and collective narratives, value them and thank you for placing your trust in me.”

He stated that “one of our public service values is courage”, inviting all staff “to show moral courage – especially senior members of staff – and call out poor workplace culture, unacceptable behaviours and call for some semblance of good leadership”.

“I acknowledge that many of you would be apprehensive about raising your concerns formally with an impending organisational restructure… however, [certain] behaviours have been so fundamentally contrary to our values,” he said.

It’s understood that after the email was sent, AGD chief Caroline Mealor sent a follow-up email warning staff not to distribute it further, including to media.

In a statement, the agency told InDaily the Chief Executive had “received this staff member’s complaint and is investigating”.

“Given the need for confidentiality, no further detail will be provided,” they said.

They confirmed he was still employed by AGD, however his current role does not appear on the proposed organisational chart.

The department told InDaily: “The Planning and Land Use Services division is being restructured as a result of the launch of the ePlanning portal, which has significantly changed the way that unit operates.”

The current organisational chart shows four managers answering to the director, under which sit nine team leaders, two principal planners and an events officer, with 54 staff in lower-tier roles.

The proposed new structure will see five managers, a senior project coordinator, a project coordinator, a senior statutory process officer and a Team Leader of Demographics and Forecasting answering to the Director, under which sit eight team leaders, a principal planner, a senior planning officer, two project leaders and a development analyst, with 39 staff below them.

In total, there will be 13 fewer staff in officer levels 2 to 4, but with an increase in management level and officer level 5 staff from five to six, as well as other structural changes, with a net reduction of nine.

A spokesperson told InDaily: “The structure that has been provided to staff is a draft only, informed by an independent analysis of new work requirements.”

“No final decisions have been made and consultation is ongoing,” they said.

“Employee feedback will be considered in the final structure, with the department committed to advising teams on how decisions were reached.

“Any changes to staffing levels – either managerial or otherwise – will be made to ensure the division operates as effectively is possible.”

The office of Attorney-General Vickie Chapman referred inquiries to the Department, which is responsible for staff complaints.

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