Thursday, June 28, 2012

Minister Collier has to go

Yesterday’s post explained why the Premier’s imminent pre-election reshuffle should include a replacement for Minister Liz Constable, but she’s not the only current Minister he should jettison forthwith.

Today, I’ll explain some of the reasons why the Premier should take the opportunity to also drop Minister Collier who is, as you will see below, a much greater liability to the Government than the Minister for Education.

Firstly, let’s clear the air about something. My last job in the Barnett Government was as Minister Collier’s Chief of Staff and despite what he said to Paul Murray during this interview our relationship did not end amicably. In fact, the termination of my contract was a total surprise to me – delivered via SMS by the Premier’s Chief of Staff while I was in New York on annual leave with my pregnant wife. I have had one conversation with the Minister since then, which I initiated, at 1am from my hotel room. During that 30 second call, I asked what I had done wrong and his response was, “It’s not like that, we are just very different people”.

While thankfully we are indeed very different people, I had spent the vast majority of my time in Minister Collier’s office working to arrest the high level of staff turnover and build efficiency through improved morale – and had quite some success. But to a genuine narcissist, efficient teams and stable human resources are of little value.

Some will attempt to paint that as nothing more than a vengeful spit from a disgruntled former employee – so be it. Regardless of how my detractors go about trying to play it down, there are many other examples of the Minister’s total disregard for others - and that is why he has to go. A Minister’s stock-in-trade is the strength of relationships he or she holds. They need people to trust them enough to offer the truth when asked and be open to conversations that end in accepting a compromise, or favour, for the Government - for want of a less corrupt-sounding word.

But Peter Collier is simply not capable of building those kind of relationships. His lack of willingness to discuss his issues with me face to face is one thing, but he’s also done some pretty ordinary things to others – like asking me to replace his longest serving staff member while that person was on compassionate leave trying to cope with a terrible family tragedy.

Some might question the public relevance but anyone who has ever held a management position will immediately understand the cost of staff turnover and poor morale - in pure tax-payer dollar terms - on top of the lost time and corporate knowledge that is now in the hands of someone else. In his office of 13, Minister Collier has seen around 40 staff come and go – a complete turnover of staff 3 times in just over 3 years. Just think about how that kind of change would impact on your workplace.

And it’s not just his office staff walking away.

Astonishingly, the Minister seems almost proud to take credit for what he rather insensitively calls “napalming” the upper levels of management of almost every agency he oversees. In fact, every single agency (Training and Workforce Development, Office of Energy, Department of Indigenous Affairs, Western Power, Synergy, Verve and Horizon) have lost its CEO on Minister Collier’s watch and many, many more highly experienced Board Members have taken their expertise elsewhere.

I am even aware of anonymous correspondence sent to the West Australian newspaper claiming that as a result of bullying by the Minister, a number of staff at the DTWD have suffered and taken ill. I am sad to say that if I hadn't intervened and stood in the middle, I’m certain this would have continued with devastating outcomes. The West hasn’t printed the correspondence because until now, no one would validate the claims – although it did prompt the Public Sector Commissioner to undertake an investigation into the way the Minister interacted with the Department. And that’s another occasion when I had to mediate because of a broken relationship. I recall discussions I had with Commissioner Mal Wauchope while the Minister was standing over my desk, insisting that the terms of the investigation be changed to an “examination” that included a specific reference to yet another senior (and superbly performing) Departmental officer he had in his sights at the time.

And there are many others he has “napalmed”.

Since I started writing my blog, I’ve been contacted by others who used to report to the Minister – some with harrowing stories of bullying and intimidation. The cost to Western Australian tax-payers in golden handshakes, reduced productivity and lost corporate knowledge is literally incalculable. But on top of that, in three short years he has turned so many friends of the government into enemies he has become a liability to the Barnett Government on that basis alone.

But his narcissistic arrogance and non-existent people skills have damaged the State in so many other ways – for example the embarrassing trip to the UK where he managed to offend, or at least mortify every one of the senior CEO’s that spent their time and money travelling with us to try to promote Western Australia as a working destination. There was the CEO who told me I needed to stop the Minister publicly denigrating the countries hosting our delegation, the several who asked me to stop him staring into his mobile phone whenever they wanted a quiet moment with him and of course the humiliating lunch meeting with senior officers of the Irish government when he declared that he “doesn’t eat lunch” and spent most of the meeting walking around outside the glass-walled room talking on his mobile phone, while the rest of us spoke on his behalf.

Notably, he still hasn’t provided a report to Parliament explaining the outcomes of the expensive and damaging two week jaunt.

Not only was that trip damaging, it was exhausting for all involved because he has an overwhelming need to have expert knowledge of everything he confronts. That manifests in three significant ways:
  • His diary secretary is explicitly instructed to accept a maximum of only two meetings in his office per day (but occasionally takes more when absolutely necessary),
  • He becomes highly anxious and unpleasant when he is surprised, and
  • His departments are put under enormous pressure by being forced to generate briefing notes for every trivial issue, including his own Cabinet submissions.
There’s a reason we don’t ever see the Minister on weekend news or at weekend events – there are no staff available to provide background briefings!

But the Minister’s failure to manage and optimise relationships and the impact this has had on the efficiency and effectiveness of his three critically important portfolios isn’t the main reason the Premier should replace him in next week’s reshuffle. It’s the Minister’s propensity to shirk all responsibility and mislead Parliament that are the real hanging offences.

Sadly, I haven’t yet had time to trawl through Hansard for specific examples but there are more than a few occasions the Minister has misled Parliament – here’s just two that I heard during question time on 15 May:
“As far as chiefs of staff are concerned, I was very sorry to see Colin and Blair go; they went on to other things. Darren moved on to something else” [Yes, a reluctant stay-at-home Dad]
“I have had only one change in media officers… she was fantastic but she wanted something a little quieter” [Outright lie, she was effectively dismissed]
I promise I’ll do that research very soon - if the Opposition doesn’t get to it first - but my baby needs to be fed and I can’t end without mentioning the reason the Minister was referred to as “slippery Pete” long before the Federal Speaker fiasco arose – and the serious image problem it causes for the Government.

While we have the Premier on the radio regularly offending people with his somewhat charming “tell-it-how-it-is” style of honesty and accountability, the Minister for Energy; Training and Workforce Development; Indigenous Affairs is working the room, taking credit for everything positive and busily blaming everyone around him for anything less than pleasant.

Again, there are many examples of this in Hansard, but I really liked this report in the West Australian last week when he did a classic Bart Simpson (“It wasn’t me”) and blamed his performance in the House on the poor Police Minister - Collier silenced over 'fake cop' scandal. Now, it just may be true that Minister Johnson had provided instructions to his Upper House colleague on how to deal with tricky questions, but it’s far from collegiate and a long way from in the best interests of the Government to escape scrutiny by blaming an already vulnerable Minister.

And that really exemplifies the core of why the Premier should dump this Minister now.

He isn’t a team player. He doesn’t understand the need to assist his colleagues. He does not have the best interests of anyone other than himself at heart. Quite simply, Peter Collier is not worthy of the Ministerial salary based solely on his lack of competency, let alone the wider damage his reckless self-obsession continues to cause the state of Western Australia.

Note: To answer any question about why I’ve decided to tell “my story” now – two things:
  1. There’s a chance the Premier will promote Peter Collier in this week's reshuffle and he needs to be fully aware - so he can be accountable - of the truth before he finalises his decision.
  2. Personally, I’m ready and quite anxious to move on. My professional reputation has suffered because many former friends and colleagues were left to make assumptions about the circumstances of my departure while others were actively misled. I need to set the record straight so I can set about rebuilding the bridges that were burnt from under me.


  1. hi db, just been reading about the reshuffle over at our abc. looks like:
    1. liza harvey got a gig in police (nice call by you BTW on her prospects),
    2. buswell is back (no surprise really),
    3. somehow collier got a sideways into education (another good call by you to rid us of constable - but cancelled by the continuation of collier's toxicity)

    so you could have made some money on my previous odds ... now will collier "napalm" the silver city crowd over in education in the next 9-months?

  2. Good on you for having the guts and honesty to write this. As a former staffer myself, I can attest to the fact that most people would be shocked at the behaviour and (lack of) character of our political leaders. I hope this will be a wake up call.

  3. Dear Fox,
    I can't comment on the circumstances of your experience and I don't know Peter Collier at all well. But I have been a 'staffer', terrible word btw, both federally and at a state level.
    In my experience there is the same variability in performance, conduct and decency among politicians as you can expect from any other employer in the economy. I do not subscribe to the 'all politicians are bastards' line, that the anonymous commentator above seems to. The prevailing difference however is the effect of living and working in a fishbowl. That scrutiny seems to amplify whatever other office dynamics are at play.
    With respect to the re-shuffle, I must say I am impressed. A line-up that is youthful and enthusiastic. It also pierces the lie that the Liberal parliamentary benches are without depth.

    1. Hi OB.

      Fair call although the difference is these guys are elected and paid by the people. While I fully acknowledge that they are only human, I also think accepting the job means accepting the fact that leadership is more than just 7 seconds on TV at night.

      Thanks for reading and for your thoughtful and respectful contribution.