‘Family, friends first’ for high-paid public service jobs
High-paying government jobs are being advertised to relatives and friends of public servants in a state department where dozens of staff are already related - leading to bombshell claims of nepotism.
The shattering accusations have rocked the Queensland Rural and Industry Development Authority - the department tasked with distributing government financial assistance to the business and agriculture sectors.
The Courier-Mail can reveal about 10 per cent of staff within the 166-person state organisation are related.
In two cases, three members of the same immediate family are employed at QRIDA.
There are at least six other cases where a husband and wife, parent and child or siblings are employed within the office.
One former QRIDA employee, speaking on the condition of anonymity, has blown the whistle on what they claim is a culture of favouritism.
The worker said staff were regularly made aware of job vacancies and urged to share them with friends and family before a public job ad was posted.
Several emails seen by The Courier-Mail confirm that on several occasions management sought applications for mid-level office staff "from QRIDA staff and known networks only".
While the jobs were not exclusively offered to friends or relatives of existing staff, the former employee said there was a strong push to hire "known people".
"It's just wrong and it doesn't help the stereotype of the public service," the worker said.
"You'd be in the office and out of the blue someone would say 'my mother or husband also works here'.
"It was such a strange working environment and people are encouraged to get friends or family to apply for these high-paying jobs before the general public has the same ability."
A QRIDA spokeswoman said the authority "strongly rejects any assertion of nepotism" and said all positions were recruited according to proper public service policy.
"Any person as a member of a selection panel must declare any conflict of interest including if they are a family member, friend or ex-colleague," she said.
"From time to time, QRIDA will accept candidates from existing staff's known contacts in order to generate the widest possible recruitment pool.
"All candidates are then assessed on an independent merit-based selection process with any related staff playing no part and having no delegated authority to hire."
Griffith University Public Policy and Law Professor AJ Brown said the number of staff within QRIDA who were part of the same family unit "raises a red flag".
"It strikes me that it is hard to see there is any justification or policy explanation that would generate such an anomaly," he said.
"That should legitimately raise question marks."
Professor Brown, a board member of global corruption-fighting organisation Transparency International, said it was difficult to assess the extent of nepotism within Queensland's public service.
Speaking generally, Professor Brown said the practice could lead to more significant issues.
"Nepotism and cronyism is absolutely one of the beginnings of the slippery slope to the worst forms of corruption," he said.
The employee also claimed QRIDA has "continually extended the temporary contracts of employees despite loan programs ending" - a claim the authority denies.
QRIDA's staffing levels have doubled from 80 in 2015-16 to 166 in the 2019-20 financial year.
Last financial year it added 36 temporary workers, largely due to the rollout of the $1bn COVID-19 Jobs Support Loan Scheme program.
It resulted in QRIDA's wage bill reaching a staggering $12.1m, up from $8.7m in the prior period.
"QRIDA as a professional administrator of government loans and grants is required to stand ready and have the ability to rapidly scale up its staff resources in response to natural disasters and other events such as the COVID-19 pandemic," the spokeswoman said.
Originally published as 'Family, friends first' for high-paid public service jobs