Victoria’s chief economist Sanjeev Sabhlok has resigned his position as the Department of Premier and Cabinet’s director-general in protest of Dan Andrews’ “police state”.
Mr Sabhlok said in a letter to Mr Andrews last week that the government’s battle with unions was “an appalling assault on the very fabric of democracy”.
He claimed the two unions which have launched a series of attacks on the Andrews Government’s attitude to trade unions were “dismissing, undermining and misinterpreting” government announcements.
In April, the Andrews Government froze funding for councils that object to compulsory workplace arbitration, while it also walked away from negotiations with the state’s private members’ organisations.
The move puts the Andrews Government in conflict with the Metro Trains Local Government Association (MTLA), which is part of a campaign to have unions removed from their decision-making roles.
The Coalition has continually brushed aside opposition attempts to oust unions from the public service, arguing it would lead to a loss of jobs and core services such as health and education.
Mr Andrews has repeatedly defended his line on public sector union representation. In a speech on Monday, he said it was the union’s culture that was “how mainstream and deep the public sector is in our common sense”.
But unions last month responded by organising a two-day strike across state universities and vocational training courses, with 650 teaching jobs on strike in Melbourne.
Mr Andrews dismissed suggestions the MPA “undermined the spirit of Victorian’s strong and vibrant trade union movement”.
“You have always got to get the facts right,” he said.
“If you’ve got to have some arguments, you’ve got to have some proof, because you’re not going to get it if you invent it all yourself. So you’re better to talk to people and have a productive debate. So we’ll sort through and see where we go from there.”
Mr Andrews insisted he was not surrendering on his commitment to the education industry.
The government’s response to trade union organisations over their relationship with the government has been many years in the making, he said.
“Before any of this, I, as premier, had deep ties with the Victorian public sector in the public service and education,” he said.
“I’ve always insisted … the public sector must make their own decisions, their own choice. We have relationships with trade unions across the state, and we’ll continue to do so.”
Mr Andrews said he would accept Mr Sabhlok’s resignation with “great credit”.
“So there’ll be a fantastic full-time position available for him,” he said.
“The sense I got from that letter from the chief economist is that that was his role and what he was there to do – to advise me and to express opinions about what was going on. That clearly is not what that is and I won’t tolerate that.”
Mr Andrews said the government had provided Mr Sabhlok with a way to discuss his views in a number of ways.
Mr Andrews and Mr Sabhlok went to the bank together last month to discuss the resignation in Mr Andrews’ office.