Belt-tightening cuts deeper into agriculture department jobs

Melissa WilliamsCountryman
It forecast that, without any State Government budget relief, this reduction was likely to continue.
Camera IconIt forecast that, without any State Government budget relief, this reduction was likely to continue.

WA Labor has continued to slash jobs at the State’s agriculture and food department but managed to claw more funds out of industry for co-investment in research, development and extension.

The Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development annual report for 2017-18 was issued this month and showed 131 staff were cut from the super-agency during the year, saving $4.5 million in salaries.

This included a requisite 20 per cent reduction in senior executive services across the former departments of agriculture and food; fisheries and regional development; and nine regional development commissions.

The job shedding at DPIRD during 2017-18 followed an estimated 38 per cent cut in full-time-equivalent staff at the former Department of Agriculture and Food WA in 2007 and 2016.

A stocktake report into DAFWA in August 2016 showed there were 965 FTE staff at that time, down from 1581 FTE staff in June 2007. It forecast that, without any State Government budget relief, this reduction was likely to continue.

The stocktake report panel revealed that staff reductions at DAFWA, while necessary in some areas, had led to significant and unsustainable workloads for some key members.

It said this threatened DPIRD’s ability to deliver on Government’s priorities, in addition to having a significant and negative impact on staff morale.

The 2016 stocktake report also showed DAFWA was leveraging the $122 million it received from the State Government for its frontline activities with about $50 million extra coming in from third parties, such as national RD&E corporations.

Such leveraging is beneficial to Government and the wider agricultural sector but the DAFWA stocktake review panel flagged that the agency’s ability to attract co-investment was often challenged by an inability to demonstrate the matching investment by the Government.

The 2017-18 DPIRD annual report showed that the Grains Research and Development Corporation continued to be the State Government’s biggest single co-investor in agriculture and its contribution to the agency increased in 2017-18 from the previous year.

This underpinned a 19 per cent increase in DPIRD’s total expenditure on co-investment projects compared to the previous year.

It meant the department met its target of 22 per cent co-investment as a proportion of total cost of services, which was relatively consistent with levels of the past five years.

DPIRD’s overall financial performance in 2016-17 was highlighted by an under-spend of about $60 million from its estimated actual of $516 million.

This was attributed to lower funding for various Royalties for Regions projects, lower-than-expected salary expenses — mainly due to delays in filling vacancies — and lower depreciation expenses for the Gascoyne Food Bowl Pipeline, Grains Innovation precinct and the State Barrier Fence.

Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan told State Parliament that project under-spends were about $45.4 million, lower salaries $6.8 million and depreciation $7.8 million.

Ms MacTiernan said consideration of project under-spends would form part of the mid-year DPIRD review process, which was not yet complete.

She said reduced salary expenditure of $6.8 million (about 3 per cent of salaries) was consistent with typical variances in public sector vacancy rates.

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