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Jay's new model of open (plan) Government

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More than $800,000 of taxpayers’ money will be spent refurbishing Premier Jay Weatherill’s wing of the State Administration building on Victoria Square – but the Government insists the facelift will yield longer-term savings.

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Department of Premier and Cabinet staff will be shifted from their current digs in Riverside House and Terrace Towers on North Terrace and the “Black Stump” building at 25 Grenfell Street as part of a process to consolidate workers in fewer sites, which Weatherill’s office says will save around $5 million over four years in rent.

But as part of the “consolidation”, the Premier’s own wing of the State Administration Centre will be refashioned with a focus on “hot desk”-style co-location – at an estimated cost of $815,000, subject to tender.

It’s a design championed by Weatherill’s department chief, Kym Winter-Dewhirst, who has already introduced an “open-plan” design to the building’s 16th floor, with a revamp of level 14 due for completion soon.

Tahnya Donaghy, Kym Winter-Dewhirst and Phil McMahon. Photo: Nat Rogers/InDaily

Kym Winter-Dewhirst and colleagues share a “hot-desk” moment. Photo: Nat Rogers/InDaily

As InDaily reported in March, the scheme involves opulent open space, with banks of shared work-desks – geared for both sitting and standing – lockers for storing personal belongings, assigned meeting areas and colour-coded carpet delineating “quiet” and “collaborative” spaces.

Winter-Dewhirst said at the time the scheme saved money in paper and printer use and would ultimately yield substantial savings in reduced rents, as well as improving efficiency through eliminating public-sector “silos”.

“Every dollar I spend on this program results in the return of $6,” he said.

While the level 16 refurbishment meant no-one on the floor had an individual work station, it’s understood Weatherill will retain a personal office and desk.

As part of the re-design, the media will be banished downstairs, with the existing space for press conferences to be subsumed in the open-plan remodel.

Media conferences will temporarily be held two floors down on level 13, before being permanently moved to the building’s ground floor.

Jay Weatherill arrives for a media conference on Level 15. Photo: Nat Rogers / InDaily

Weatherill said the new design would create an office environment that was “highly collaborative” and encourage staff to work with “more efficiency and engagement”.

“Many private-sector companies are providing a modernised workplace for their employees to improve collaboration and productivity – I believe the public sector should follow this lead,” he said in a statement.

“Ultimately, this project will save money and we wouldn’t be pursuing these changes if the taxpayer were not better off.”

Weatherill’s department currently occupies floorspace in six buildings across the CBD – this will be reduced to three, including the SAC.

The Victoria Square hub has been on the market for years, after headlining a budget-balancing firesale in 2008.

An imminent sale with preferred bidder Finance Mutual Australia fell over last year, but Commercial & General has reportedly planned to buy the site as the foundation asset of its mooted Wholesale Office Trust.

It’s understood the Government expects a sale contract to be signed by the end of the year, which will likely include a lease-back arrangement for the SAC building.

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Photo: Nat Rogers/ InDaily

Shadow Treasurer Rob Lucas said the Opposition was “still trying to run to ground the actual cost” of the original 16th-floor revamp, arguing whistleblowers had told him the original estimate of $500,000 was well below the final figure.

“The example of the 16th floor, based on information we’ve been given, was a massive waste of money, and certainly there’s been opposition from a number of public servants within State Administration… who have expressed concerns about the operation of the ‘hot-desking’ arrangement,” he said.

“At this stage it’s untested… they say we’re now going to save money on other leases, but until we actually see the outcome of that, it’s untested.”

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