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SPER of the moment: Debt agency staff sacked, locked out of Treasury offices without notice

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More than 30 Queensland Government staff and contractors have been locked out of their work with no warning, after their jobs are suddenly ended without their knowledge.

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A total of 33 people working in the State Penalty Enforcement Registry (SPER) tried to log-on for work last Friday, only to be blocked by messages saying their accounts had been frozen or suspended.

The previous day it was reported the Crime and Corruption Commission was assessing the management of SPER, although Treasury said this was unrelated to the cessation of employment.

Some staff even turned up at Government headquarters at 1 William Street, and were unable to get into the building when their swipe access cards had not worked.

It was the first time the staff had learned their work arrangements at Queensland Treasury had been ended that day.

The staff, which included temporary public servants and contractors, had been working for more than a year on a new ICT program for SPER, to collect over $1 billion in state debts.

One source told the ABC: “It was terrible, the way it was done.” Another said: “I was just locked out. Just like that.”

Queensland Treasury has declined to explain why the staff were not told they had lost their jobs before they were locked out of their systems.

“All approved work on this project has been completed,” a spokesperson for the Department said in a statement.

But a letter sent on Friday to Treasury staff from the Commissioner of State Revenue Mark Jackson, obtained by ABC News, suggested other reasons.

“Given changing circumstances, a decision has been made to not further progress work on a replacement ICT system at this time,” the letter said.

“Consequently, contractors and temporary Government staff who have been involved in this work will leave us today.”

The ABC understands some aspects of the project were terminated, or discontinued, but Treasury has declined to comment.

Union has ‘significant concerns’

Sources said some staff still had about six months work left on the project, while others were due to finish at the end of the month.

Treasury has acknowledged there were provisions for some staff to continue work until the end of the year.

“While a blanket extension of temporary contracts for Treasury staff was made available until 31 December 2020, it was for positions where there was a demonstrated ongoing business need,” the Treasury spokesperson said.

Several staff members have complained to the public service union — Together Union — who wrote a letter to Treasury, raising concerns the Government could have breached industrial relations laws.

“Together [Union] has significant concerns that Treasury has failed to meet its obligation under the relevant industrial instruments to consult on matters of significant workplace change. prior to the change being implemented,” the letter stated.

‘Allegations of corrupt conduct’ assessment

SPER is the Queensland Government agency responsible for collecting more than $1 billion of state debts, including unpaid infringement traffic fines and court-ordered monetary penalties.

Last year, a different ICT project in the SPER office was cancelled after major delivery problems, causing the State Government to forfeit $22 million of taxpayer money.

The ABC has previously revealed the administration of SPER is being assessed for “allegations of corrupt conduct” after a referral by its own department.

A Treasury spokesperson said “the completion of this work is not associated with the CCC investigations.”

The Department would not elaborate if the employment of the staff let go was associated with any internal or external probe.

– ABC / Exclusive by state political reporter Allyson Horn

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