Senior public servant’s departure for private sector emblematic, union says

He has carried responsibility for some of Victoria's biggest and most contentious projects and events in recent years: approval of Melbourne's tallest skyscraper for Crown, the botched fuel reduction burn near Lancefield, the first water ordered from the desalination plant.

As head of the state's planning, environment and water networks, Adam Fennessy is one of Victoria's top public servants.

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Adam Fennessy, secretary of Victoria's Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning.

Adam Fennessy, secretary of Victoria's Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning. Photo: DELWP

He is highly regarded as a manager, and admired by his colleagues. In return he is well rewarded to the tune of $470,000.

But that hefty wage is not enough to keep him on the state's payroll. Next week he is taking his two decades' experience and heading to the private sector.

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Mr Fennessy in 2015 saying sorry to Lancefield locals after the findings of an investigation into a fire backburn that ...

Mr Fennessy in 2015 saying sorry to Lancefield locals after the findings of an investigation into a fire backburn that went wrong. Photo: Simon O'Dwyer

While a new – and likely higher-paid – job is great news for Mr Fennessy, according to some it reflects a critical problem for the government: the transfer of "corporate knowledge" from the bureaucracy to private consultancies that are paid hundreds of millions of dollars to do work the public service once did.

In the case of Mr Fennessy, he is heading to private consulting firm EY (formerly known as Ernst and Young).

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The firm operates widely across the state's public service, working on a range of planning and transport projects for the government.

It is the lead consultant on the $100 million planning process for the proposed North East Link toll road and last year was paid $850,000 to work with the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning – the department Mr Fennessy heads.

Victorian secretary of the Community and Public Sector Union Karen Batt said it increasingly appeared that the Andrews government felt compelled to buy in its thinking from consultants after years of cost cutting in the state bureaucracy.

"Labor reckons it wants to build its in-house capacity but is failing to wean departments off these consultants because of the network [of former public servants]," she said.

Mr Fennessy is hardly the first to leave the public service to take on consultancy working for the state. In the past five years, top public servants overseeing three departments have been poached by consultants.

Fran Thorn, the former head of health, is now with Deloitte. Penny Armytage, who oversaw justice, is now with KPMG. Dean Yates, who was in charge of transport, planning and local infrastructure, will be sharing offices with Mr Fennessy at EY.

Also at EY is Tony Canavan, who oversaw the Rudd government's $42 billion economic stimulus plan in Victoria and, before that, headed the Victorian Treasury department responsible for public-private partnerships.

Victorian Greens leader Greg Barber said the state needed to introduce laws such as those that exist in the United States that banned public servants consulting directly to the public service in areas they worked on for two years.

"The sorts of rules that exist in the US – not exactly known as a political utopia – should be brought into Australia," he said.

Ms Batt asked why there was not an exclusion rule that applied to senior public servants going immediately into related private consultancies as there was to former members of parliament.

A spokesman for the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning said Mr Fennessy had not been involved in the evaluation or selection of any procurement undertaken within the department.

"For procurements above $1 million, the secretary is the nominated financial delegate, but acts on the recommendation of the evaluation panel and the chief procurement officer," the spokesman said.

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