Public Sector Review | February 2021

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Review Public Sector

Public Sector Review Magazine • FEBRUARY 2021

Understaffed and under pressure Child protection workers take a stand


COVID-19 The need for vigilance


Standing firm is achieving members’ objectives


Serco failure


Understaffed and under pressure

CONTENTS From the General Secretary: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...


From the President:


From the Assistant General Secretary: A strong enterprise agreement is essential for a strong public sector


INDUSTRIAL NEWS The need for vigilance COVID-19 conditions are important in 2021


Salaried Enterprise Agreement: Standing firm is achieving members’ objectives Adelaide Remand Centre Escape: Will Serco escape the consequences of its first blunder?


The 2020-21 fluoro vest State Budget



Understaffed and under pressure 12 Child Protection workers take a stand Aboriginal Family Scoping Team 15 finds valuable support 16 It’s a train wreck The privatisation of our state’s passenger train service 17 A first for Mental Health First Aid

MEMBER NEWS Member Profile: Joanne McEntee


Vale Paul Moroney


On yer bike, Ian!

19 20

The Job: Any house, Anywhere, Anytime Super SA: Your Super fit checklist


Health Partners: Suffering from back pain – what could it mean?




PSA Members Hitting the Road After Competition Win


FEDERAL WEBSITE The website has general interest articles, a links page and specific sections for women, schools, higher education and correctional services.

WELCOME With 2020 finally behind us, the PSA is now squarely facing whatever challenges 2021 will bring. As this issue of the Public Sector Review outlines, we have come through the last year in good shape. Strong campaigning against privatisation, including a number of notable wins, was a recurring theme last year – and it’s an issue we will continue to pursue vigorously this year. Where privatisation of our public services has taken place, it’s important to keep shining the searchlight of scrutiny on the private corporations running these public assets. To that end, in this issue we examine the December escape from the Serco-run Adelaide Remand Centre and whether this is the first crack in the facade of local credibility for a company whose history of mismanagement is both spectacular and appalling.

As we go to press there are signs that despite heartening progress with COVID-19 vaccines, it seems quite possible that sudden lockdowns, rapidly shifting infection trends and mutating viruses could be a feature of our daily lives for months or even years to come. We are living in serious and turbulent times which could present considerable challenges to our standard of living and working. These are powerful incentives for PSA members to take pride in their work, to support one another and above all, to stay united.

Equally troubling is the evolving situation regarding Keolis Downer’s new contract to run Adelaide’s passenger train services. As in the Serco case, the blow-by-blow account of the train services privatisation process – much of which is on the public

Review Public Sector

The Public Sector Review is an official publication of the Public Service Association of SA Inc and the Community and Public Sector Union (SPSF Group) SA Branch.

Comments, letters and editorial material to: ‘The Editor’, Public Sector Review Level 5, 122 Pirie Street, Adelaide SA 5000 Selected articles are published electronically on the PSA website at Tel: 08 8205 3200 Fax: 08 8223 6509 Toll-Free: 1800 811 457 Email:


record – is a sorry tale of questionable decision making with disturbing financial implications.

Public Sector Review Magazine | FEBRUARY 2021

Designed and printed on recycled and sustainably sourced paper by created2print, 107 Sturt Street, Adelaide SA The Public Sector Review’s official publication number is PP565001/0010. Volume 5, Number 1. Responsibility for political content in this publication is taken by Nev Kitchin.

A message from the General Secretary


Those opening words from Charles Dickens famous book The Tale of Two Cities perfectly encapsulate the year that was 2020. Fire and pandemic, turmoil and uncertainty, personal isolation amidst collective crisis: 2020 had a sense of living through a time when history was changing in days rather than decades. It was tough. Each day, the resilience and resourcefulness of PSA members was tested as we faced the COVID-19 pandemic and met new challenges with dedication and resilience. On the front-lines and in the back rooms, they tested blood, followed up contact tracing, organised logistics, provided phone advice and reassurance to their fellow citizens. In a thousand ways, our state public sector was there when it counted. I’m proud of the way PSA members conducted themselves during the pandemic. In the worst of times, we saw the best from people. No-one said ‘it’s just too hard’. And in these circumstances, the true significance of the PSA’s ‘I Am Essential’ campaign stood out in stark relief. As General Secretary, I’ve been immensely proud to advocate on your behalf in these extraordinary times. Ensuring that members receive the full industrial protection that is their due has been at the top of our priorities in 2020 and will remain so into the future.

Honouring the commitment Public sector workers put in a remarkable effort during the pandemic. It’s only fair

now to expect their employer to honour such commitment to the job by supporting the conditions that underpin public sector employment. It’s no surprise that PSA members have shown overwhelming support for the RRR (Retraining, Redeployment and Redundancy) principles that are a key component of ongoing enterprise bargaining negotiations between the PSA and the state government. Removing the RRR provisions from the enterprise agreement, as the government

“High performing and adaptive” sums up the last year very succinctly, suitably describing a workforce who have honoured their side of the enterprise agreement. 2020 has been compelling proof that treating the state public sector’s extraordinary reservoir of skills and capacities with respect and dignity pays great dividends to the community. Despite change on an unprecedented scale in our state, the Enterprise Agreement protections have been proven to work. There were no forced redundancies, making it clear that the RRR

Despite change on an unprecedented scale in our “ state, the Enterprise Agreement protections have been proven to work ”

wants, would make it easier to sack people and would strip workplace fundamentals such as consultation, dispute avoidance and fair resolution. The very first point of RRR Appendix 1 in the enterprise agreement states: “Public Sector employees are high performing and adaptive to the requirements of the government and the public.”

principles are demonstrably effective and there is no case for axing those principles. Members have told us unequivocally that defending the RRR principles around job security is their top priority. As we go into 2021, we will continue to stand strong on those principles. Continued Overleaf


General Secretary continued

The wins For all the difficulties members faced from bushfires and COVID-19, there were some brilliant wins in 2020. Our campaign against privatisation was unrelenting. Together we secured a significant victory in stopping the privatisation of SA Pathology, whose world-leading COVID-19 response further validated our case for retaining this valuable service in public hands. The SA Pathology campaign was long and intense - in addition to political lobbying, we found broad community support, made skilled use of media and brought to bear PSA members’ extensive skills and connections. Together, the pressure we created for the government to change its policy was tremendous.

The end result was very satisfying and a great testament to the courage and determination of our SA Pathology Worksite Representatives in particular. Though difficult, the entire campaign was proof that privatisation attempts by governments can be stopped.

economy turned to public spending and public services to underpin social and economic stability. Every day we heard news stories which provided evidence that effective public services come into their own when dealing with a pandemic... or any crisis of such scale.

There were other significant wins in 2020. Following the PSA’s lobbying and alliance-building with community allies, the government retreated from the sell-off of the SA Motor Registry and the closure of three Service SA centres. These wins are convincing proof the services members provide are actively supported and valued by the community.

From the 2020 experience, South Australians will continue to expect a permanent professional public sector which can respond to a wide range of challenges. There’s a powerful lesson here for our political leaders - woe betide any leader who cuts public services so far that the state cannot mount an appropriate response in the face of catastrophic threat.

The bigger picture

Into 2021 in good shape

In the longer term, governments faced with a rampant pandemic and a wobbly

A message from the President by Michael Griffiths The President did not provide a message for this issue of the Review.

Even though COVID-19 still dominates our daily headlines, as 2021 unfolds the PSA is in good shape. We will continue to protect not just the South Australian community but also our hard-won conditions. We will back up our wins on privatisation during 2020, a year in which the value of a capable public sector became strikingly obvious. Bolstered by a strong enterprise agreement whose content, spirit and intent we will continue to defend into 2021, the PSA has the depth of experience and resolve to confidently meet future challenges. I look forward to whatever the coming year brings.




A South Australian Public Sector in which PSA members are highly valued and well-resourced, with fair and secure working conditions and entitlements.

To grow, engage and empower our membership by working collectively to effectively represent, protect and actively advance PSA members’ interests.

Public Sector Review Magazine | FEBRUARY 2021

A message from the Assistant General Secretary



Regular readers of this column will know me as someone who is a passionate advocate of our state’s public sector and a diligent opponent of the privatisation of our vital services. I am also passionate about respectful industrial arrangements which are so fundamental to a strong, vibrant wellresourced public sector. As Assistant General Secretary for the last five years I’ve gained unique insights into the day-to-day work of PSA members in an impressive range of fields, and every one of them forms an essential part of our effective public sector. I am always struck by our members’ tremendous personal pride in their jobs across the diverse and varied fields and occupations in which they work: I’ve met committed members caring for vulnerable children; working throughout our health system; helping people on the other side of a counter; working in administration; as scientists and engineers; in our schools and the Corrections system, to name but a few among many others. We all want to know we’ve made a difference in some way when we go home at the end of each working week. Working in the public sector means being passionate about making a positive difference in the world: a more secure and healthier community, a more equitable society, a better future for children, a more sustainable environment and much more.

What the public sector is not about is making profits for private corporations.

by the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequent social impacts.

The role of the public sector is to meet the needs of the community – not the greed of uncaring multinational corporations.

Our public sector has shone during the pandemic: systems swinging into action, people adapting, solving problems, using specialist know-how. Under pressure, public servants have done, and continue to do, great work for our state. The deep well of capacity and commitment that has come into play during the pandemic is not an accident or a fluke: it is the very reason

Community needs are not measured by the standard profit and loss accounting snapshot of private business activity. Human factors such as wellbeing and a sense of security are more complex and

A strong enterprise agreement which provides job “ security and respectful conditions of employment is fundamental to a vibrant, modern, well-resourced, adaptable, responsive and effective world class public service

require much more consideration than purchasing a contract or two from profitdriven corporations. Time and time again, privatisations have betrayed the public interest and failed to deliver what our community needs. Any public sector in a first world economy, such as South Australia’s, has many different and intersecting parts. Those of us who work in the public sector understand the links within the public sector and recognise the importance of these links to the efficient functioning of our public sector as a whole. The current pandemic has revealed just how resilient and adaptable our public sector – with all its intersecting links – is when the state government needs reliable expertise, technical capacity and certainty to deal with a crisis such as that created

we have a modern public sector. And public sector workers – our PSA members – are at the heart of it. A fundamental requirement for an efficient, responsive and effective public service is job security. Along with many other conditions which serve to underpin a respectful working relationship, job security and other conditions such as consultation and proper processes to deal with issues when they arise are enshrined in our enterprise agreements. SAMPSEAS, the South Australian Modern Public Sector Enterprise Agreement which covers most PSA members, provides the industrial reinforcement of our modern public sector job security, conditions and entitlements – and is the mark of a respected public service. Continued Overleaf


Assistant General Secretary continued A strong enterprise agreement which provides job security and respectful conditions of employment is fundamental to a vibrant, modern, well-resourced, adaptable, responsive and effective world class public service. PSA member consultation during 2020 overwhelmingly confirmed job security as the number one issue for members. The PSA continues to stand firm on retaining job security and other fundamental conditions during the bargaining for the successor agreement to the current SAMPSEAS. At a time when PSA members are doing some of the most important work of their careers, and when our community needs you the most, SAMPSEAS has proven to be a shield that protects not only our

members but the vital services you provide for our community. With the state government’s agenda of cuts and privatisation, and with community needs increasing and becoming more complex, members clearly understand how important it is to protect these conditions. The government’s bargaining agenda remains to remove many of the fundamental conditions members fought for and won during the last round of bargaining (including job security, dispute avoidance and resolution, and consultation). I’m proud to say that under the job security protections we won in SAMPSEAS, not one single PSA member has been made involuntarily redundant. Our redeployment,

retraining and redundancy (RRR) provisions have protected PSA members, even during one of the most precarious unemployment climates in a generation. We must continue to defend our job security and other important conditions. Not only to protect our own livelihoods and our own families, but to protect all South Australians by defending the essential public services our community relies upon. In recent membership meetings PSA members overwhelmingly committed to stand firm together to protect these conditions. We are in a strong position and if we keep working together and stay united, we will succeed.


During the first lockdown in March and April 2020, it rapidly became clear that many PSA members were facing a range of drastically altered circumstances arising from working from home, forced isolation, waiting for COVID-19 test results – all with uncertain implications for pay and leave arrangements. From the start, the PSA actively advocated for members’ industrial rights and the introduction of special COVID-19 arrangements. General Secretary Nev Kitchin was directly involved in much of this advocacy - not just for industrial arrangements, but for the protection of PSA members’ safety. These arrangements dealt with the many variations in personal circumstances that


arose unexpectedly during the early days of the pandemic, such as sickfamily members or complications withself-isolation. The PSA advocated for the introduction of Special COVID-19 Leave in March 2020 and then supported members access to it. During the brief second lockdown in November 2020, the PSA was instrumental through timely and direct high level negotiation with government in having the original 15 days Special COVID-19 Leave reset for another 15 days for those members who needed it. Last year the PSA Members’ Industrial Hotline responded to 683 member enquiries about their rights in relation to a range of COVID-19 arrangements.

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In the course of their jobs during the pandemic, many PSA members face high levels of potential exposure to the virus. PSA leadership and industrial staff will continue to be vigilant to ensure that members are not financially disadvantaged as a result of being potentially or actually exposed to the virus, and that risks to their safety are minimised. With the current high levels of COVID-19 overseas and the risks of more infectious mutating virus strains arriving in South Australia, the PSA will continue to advocate for members in 2021 to ensure members can work safely and be treated fairly. The COVID-19 story is not over yet.

SALARIED ENTERPRISE AGREEMENT: STANDING FIRM IS ACHIEVING MEMBERS’ OBJECTIVES The PSA continues to achieve PSA members’ highest priority objectives from this round of bargaining for the salaried enterprise agreement.

...the main aim is securing the “ fundamental objectives members identified as important to them at the start.

Job security, maintaining our effective redeployment systems and processes, retaining protections from and processes to deal with unreasonable workloads, and maintaining all conditions of employment have all been kept safe by the PSA in this round of bargaining so far.

redundancy), reduced consultation and limited dispute resolution provisions. We could have concluded an agreement – but it would have betrayed PSA members.

This, in the face of an aggressive and hostile agenda from a government intent on cutting public services, sacking public servants and privatising essential public services.

The PSA’s role has been to protect and pursue members’ interests – not to assist the government implement its anti-public sector and anti-public servant agenda.

Members should be proud of what we have achieved so far – but there is still a long way to go before this round of bargaining will produce an outcome that will satisfy PSA members.

At the end of the day, it will be PSA members standing firm and united who will determine the outcome of these negotiations. It will be PSA members who determine the content of an enterprise agreement which, after all, is a measure of the respect and dignity with which they are treated at work.

The PSA has been following a well-considered strategy that is founded on membership and Worksite Representative engagement and involvement, and which was initially set, and has been repeatedly and unanimously confirmed by the PSA Council. We have consistently put our position to government and regularly advised them they need to reconsider their harsh agenda for negotiations to proceed in a constructive manner.


While bargaining continues, the existing salaried enterprise agreement – SAMPSEAS – continues to apply in all respects. Bargaining will continue with the PSA’s objective of achieving an agreement that meets the needs of PSA members – and which is a genuine measure of the respect and dignity with which members should be treated at work. There is no set time period within which enterprise agreements must be negotiated. Each bargaining round takes place in its own context and this round is no different. While COVID-19 has played a part, the main aim is securing the fundamental objectives members identified as important to them at the start. PSA members must remain focussed on the main objective. That main objective is to achieve an agreement which meets members’ needs. If the objective was simply to conclude negotiations and finalise an agreement, that is something we could have done a year ago. However, it would have been an agreement without job security protections, no RRR (redeployment, retraining and

When it comes to your job security, your Enterprise Agreement matters. 7


WILL SERCO ESCAPE THE CONSEQUENCES OF ITS FIRST BLUNDER? At around 9.30 in the morning of 1 December 2020, prisoner Jason Burdon squeezed through an airconditioning vent at the back of the Adelaide Remand Centre, shimmied down a makeshift rope of knotted clothing, dropped onto Phillip Street and escaped. This incident was a significant lapse for one of the state’s most high security corrections facilities but it was also a major disaster for Serco, the Adelaide Remand Centre’s new private prison operators. Security cameras showed escapee Burdon casually strolling away from the scene. He was probably unaware that he had just added yet another sorry episode to Serco’s abysmal global history of “problems, failures, fatal errors and overcharging”, to quote Serco’s own UK lawyers. A subsequent large scale police operation recaptured the escapee several days later. The larger question is what would be the longer term consequences of Serco’s first serious blunder of its contract administration.

How did it happen? One of the telling factors in the escape and the subsequent delay in notifying the police may be due to the reduction of staffing levels at the ARC. Following the privatisation in August 2019, some 150 public sector ARC staff were replaced with an unknown number of Serco employees.


While the actual staff numbers are hidden beneath the usual cloak of “commercial in confidence”, several sources in the system have told the PSA that there are approximately half the previous number of staff. An enquiry into the circumstances of the escape should be able to clarify the exact nature of supervision that the prisoner was under prior to his escape. Again the cloak of secrecy is being drawn across the answers to such questions but it seems reasonable that lower staffing levels would lead to lower effective levels of security. Serco makes much of its ability to “efficiently” manage prisons with lower staffing numbers.

A sorry corporate history The whole event brought an unsettling sense of vindication to PSA members who work in Corrections. The PSA had been warning the Marshall government and the South Australian public about Serco’s well-documented track record of disastrous privatisation and mismanagement elsewhere in Australia and overseas.

Consider just a few of many examples: • In 2013, Serco was obliged to repay the UK Government more than £68 million after overcharging for the electronic monitoring of offenders long after their monitoring periods were expired or were in prison or dead. • After a £285 million Prisoner Escorting & Custodial Services contract with the UK government was investigated, Serco admitted to falsifying data so as to make it appear performance targets were met. In addition to being forced to pay back millions of pounds of the contract, Serco was prevented from tendering for new government contracts for a fixed period of time. • Several of Serco’s privately run prisons in Australia and New Zealand have reverted to public management in recent years after a string of managerial disasters. Such are the corporate interests now running the Adelaide Remand Centre. These extraordinary facts were widely known at the time, which makes the successful awarding of the ARC contract to Serco all the more improper.

Why your Enterprise Bargaining Agreement matters The 150 Corrections staff who lost their positions at Adelaide Remand Centre following privatisation were protected by the (RRR) Retraining, Redeployment and Redundancy principles in Appendix 1 of the current enterprise agreement negotiated by the PSA. Under that Agreement, approximately 100 Corrections staff were redeployed to positions elsewhere in Corrections and the other 50 chose to take up separation packages as defined under the Agreement. Without the RRR principles locked in by the PSA, those staff would have been shown the door with zero rights to a fair outcome.

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Pandemic profiteers Nor are such activities all in the past. More recently, even as the pandemic raged its way across Britain, in October 2020 Serco faced criticism for its role in the Boris Johnson government’s COVID-19 contact tracing system where it has been found to be considerably less effective than the same task undertaken by local public health teams. In Wales local health teams reached over 85% of contacts compared with the system being handled in England by private firms who reached just 69% of contacts. In addition, Serco onsold 85% of its contact tracing services to undisclosed third parties. Despite widely held concerns about the clear signs that Serco and Sitel, the two private firms hired to handle COVID-19 test and trace in England, are set to receive over one billion pounds for their trouble.

Zero-hour contracts attempt Here in Australia, Serco as a contractor to the Victorian public sector attempted to force zero-hour contracts on their staff working as speed camera operators. The attempt to bring in zero-hour contracts, which are a form of work contract where the employer is not obliged to provide any minimum number of hours a week, making it a most insidious form of employment. Fortunately the PSA’s Victorian equivalent saw off the challenge but it is telling that Serco made an attempt to include zero-hour contracts – a toxic and increasingly common element of Britain’s marketised economy. It is estimated that approximately one million British people are on zero-hour contracts. As a work contract at the employer’s whim to provide as few or as many hours as they want, at any time of the day or night, zero hour contracts provide precisely zero work/life balance, and a deeply precarious income. Some governments have favoured them because they are a convenient way of gaming the employment figures. Anyone on such a contract may not be earning a red cent but are not counted as being unemployed.

Penalties and incentives At the time of the ARC privatisation, Corrections Minister Corey Wingard said that Serco would have “penalties and incentives” built into its contract. He also said that he thought Serco had learnt from its mistakes! On 2 January 2021 Corrections Minister Vincent Tarzia announced that Serco would be fined $100,000 for the 1 December escape. PSA General Secretary Nev Kitchin said “$100,000 would be a small fraction of what it cost to recapture Burdon, let alone the risk to the safety of the community.” The Department for Correctional Services, the SA Police and Serco are all conducting enquiries into the escape which will make interesting reading for those permitted to read them, in light of Minister Tarzia’s statement “there is nothing before me to suggest that the staffing level was inadequate at that particular location”. With more than five years to run in the ARC contract, South Australia can ill afford any further Serco disasters. Should there be further public blunders with the high profile of the Burdon escape, Serco may have to once again pay the ultimate price it has paid so often with its contracts the ARC contract would default to public management. As from December 1 2020, the clock has been ticking for Serco.



South Australia’s 2020-21 State Budget, delivered in November 2020, was clearly framed to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the aftermath of the bushfires earlier in the year. The pandemic prompted something close to a pre-election budget, as the State Government was forced to pump-prime a potentially shaky economy. When it comes to budgets and setting priorities, governments make choices. The choice on which PSA General Secretary Nev Kitchin and Assistant General Secretary Natasha Brown have been relentlessly campaigning, and on which they have consistently directly advocated to the state’s most senior politicians, is that people – our fellow South Australians – must be the highest priority. The human needs of our community, especially those most vulnerable and those needing support, must be the priority and must be assured through investment in high quality, accessible and equitable public services. Infrastructure is important – but meeting the social needs of our community and enhancing social structures and development is by far a higher priority.

Concrete or people? The big winners in the Budget were the construction sector. With the need for immediate and long-term economic growth, the default Budget sell is now set in concrete: concrete as infrastructure or concrete as media opportunities with hard-hatted politicians in fluorescent vests gesturing over plans. High profile civil engineering infrastructure such as expressways and overpasses are important and worthwhile. But so are public programs that focus directly on social needs, such as addressing the affordable housing crisis facing many low income and homeless South Australians.

The shock of the pandemic should prompt a wider social re-evaluation of where our state should invest to get the results most South Australians want. The lost opportunity in the November State Budget was a publicly accountable vision that maximises the state’s human capital so as to meet social needs. The public sector should have been used as the vehicle to lead and support the economic recovery. Instead, we have a Budget that essentially outsourced responsibility for the postpandemic recovery to the private sector.


Public Sector Review Magazine | FEBRUARY 2021

These two paths both result in economic and employment growth. However, the visionary social projects that were once a proud point of difference for South Australia, such as the Housing Trust, have been shunted well down the list of priorities. It does not have to be that way. We need to prioritise people over concrete. We need to maintain our social investment in human talent and capacity. South Australia’s pandemic response, not just in SA Pathology but elsewhere in many government departments and agencies, has been a demonstration of our people being willing and able to rise to

The pandemic “ response was a

powerful vindication of the long view of the public sector – that it is a necessarily deep reservoir of human talent and physical resources to be scaled up when additional community need arises.

great challenges. The pandemic response was a powerful vindication of the long view of the public sector – that it is a necessarily deep reservoir of human talent and physical resources which can be scaled up when additional community need arises. People-to-people services – which is much of the day-to-day work PSA members are proud to deliver – provide the kind of social infrastructure that is bringing us successfully through the pandemic. If we want post-pandemic South Australia to be a just, democratic and civilised society, then our state will need state budgets that strengthen the civil structures and, above all, the people who are bringing us through the pandemic. And that’s our public sector people – our PSA members.

Feeding the Budget’s efficiency dividend beast The government also chose not to reverse their previously announced cuts and opted to include $198m in additional savings over the next four years. Reliance on never-ending efficiency dividends verges

It’s an Australian beast! The efficiency dividend, first seen in the Hawke Government in the 1980s, has become permanently embedded in Australian public administrations as a convenient blunt budgetary instrument. It is apparently an Australian invention. The efficiency dividend appeals to advocates of small government as it hinges on the resonating word “efficient” - its use, by implication, is that cuts to services equate to efficiency. This strict budgetary diet condemns many agencies (small ones in particular) to permanent contraction. What happens when a government agency which delivers services highly efficiently must continue to annually cut its budget by several per cent? Inevitably, such a course can only lead to cuts to essential services. As one commentator has said, efficiency dividends are like “weeding the garden blindfolded.”

on magical thinking. The annual budget contraction and the consequent increase in workloads has a deeply discouraging impact on PSA members and the services they provide. It is no surprise that PSA members rate the need to address unreasonable workloads as a high industrial priority.

As the demand for efficiency dividends continues long after the parliamentary showbiz of the Budget Speech, members will continue to be affected when departments seek to privatise or cut programs and services to feed the efficiency dividend beast.



Understaffed and under pressure Child protection workers take a stand

In 2015, Hon Margaret Nyland AM was appointed Royal Commissioner by then Premier Jay Weatherill. Her task was to examine the effectiveness of the state’s child protection system in keeping children safe from harm, especially those children who had been removed from their families and placed into the custody and/or the guardianship of the then Minister for Education and Child Development.

Commissioner Nyland’s report, “The life they deserve”, was tabled in August 2016 and provided 260 recommendations on how to improve a system seen by many to be failing in a number of critical areas.

Poor workforce planning and cuts to early intervention programs have contributed to a sharp increase in children and young people entering state care and, yet again, PSA members are being expected to carry an extraordinary workload burden.

in meetings and consultative forums, to no avail. As a result, the PSA lodged a dispute with the DCP in the South Australian Employment Tribunal (SAET) on October 19, 2020 about the issue of forced and excessive overtime.

In its submission to the Royal Commission, the PSA outlined in detail its serious concerns about understaffing across the directorate then known as Families SA.

PSA Assistant General Secretary Natasha Brown says the state government must act

But after three SAET hearings, the issue remains unresolved, largely due to the

“PSA members have been at breaking point for some time due to the lack of resources and they have faced unrealistic and demanding workloads,” PSA General Secretary Nev Kitchin said at the time.

Back to the future Five years and much restructuring later, PSA members working in Residential Care are wondering if key royal commission recommendations relating to staffing will ever be implemented. It’s a situation that has reached crisis point in recent months as Senior Youth Workers struggle under the weight of excessive and forced overtime. Between late September and early November 2020 there were 337.5 shifts the Department covered in the Southern Region using overtime and another 150 shifts went uncovered. Some full-time staff are clocking up an extra twenty hours overtime every week to cover the unallocated shifts. On nine occasions during this period, Senior Youth Workers were forced by management to work overtime shifts – night shifts following an eight-hour afternoon shift – in order to cover the staffing shortfall.

I’ve been working for the Department for Child “ Protection for over a decade and have never felt as stressed as I am at the moment. ” now to rectify the staffing shortage before there is a tragedy. “The government is cutting early intervention programs and failing to provide resources where they are needed. By our calculations, at least 60 full-time staff need to be recruited immediately. That’s how dire the situation is in residential care.” One Senior Youth Worker told the Public Sector Review that the under-staffing of Residential Care is an accident waiting to happen. “I believe it’s only a matter of time before a Senior Youth Worker who has been required to stay and cover a night shift or has responded to an issue or incident on very little sleep makes a poor judgement call that results in a devastating outcome,” they said.

Dispute lodged Over the last two years the PSA has consistently raised the issue with Department for Child Protection (DCP)

Department’s refusal to implement SAET recommendations and its preference for bandaid solutions, such as increased use of agency staff to fill the rostering gaps. DCP’s proposals to increase the use of under-qualified and inexperienced agency staff to cover vacant shifts is unacceptable. It completely disregards Recommendation 128 of the Nyland Royal Commission to phase out the use of commercial carers “except in the case of genuine short-term emergencies”. No-one could conceivably define this staffing crisis as “short-term”.

Extra stress leading to burnout Children who enter care usually have a history of abuse and neglect and are more likely to suffer emotional and behavioural difficulties. Residential Care workers are trained to manage these challenging behavioural and psychological issues, but the increase in children as young as infants entering residential care has added to


“Last time I worked a night shift I had to walk continuously around the house to keep myself awake.” SENIOR YOUTH WORKER

the complexity of the role, significantly increasing pressure on staff. Many staff are reporting increased levels of stress, anxiety and burnout. The excessive overtime along with the constant struggle to find staff to cover vacant shifts is taking its toll. “I’ve been working for DCP for over a decade and have never felt as stressed as I am at the moment. The expectations and the uncertainty around whether shifts will be covered or not is completely unreasonable. I’m always worried before my afternoon shifts that I will be forced to work overnight as well due to lack of shift cover,” said one Senior Youth Worker.

Single-handed shifts unsafe During the recent Christmas period, between December 24 and January 1, 189 shifts across Residential Care were vacant. This means staff on those shifts were working in the house on their own. The Nyland Royal Commission recommended strongly against singlehanded shifts in residential care for a wide range of reasons, not the least being the safety of the child which the report identifies as paramount:


Recommendation 150 Recruit a sufficient complement of staff to: A) cease using commercial carers in residential care facilities; B) develop a casual list to provide staff who are available on a flexible basis; and C) abandon single-handed shifts.

Impact on children When residential care facilities are understaffed or staff are fatigued, children are adversely affected and put at risk. “Last time I worked a night shift I had to walk continuously around the house to keep myself awake. The mobile night team were supportive but could not send anyone to relieve me. I do not consider this a safe situation for me or the young people in my care to be placed in,” a Senior Youth Worker told the Review. With many staff experiencing extreme fatigue due to excessive overtime, including unplanned double-shifts, the potential for harm to both themselves

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and the young people in their care is significantly increased.

What’s the solution? This crisis hasn’t appeared out of the blue. The PSA has been continually raising the under-resourcing of Residential Care with Department for Child Protection leadership. The state government has a duty of care to the children of South Australia, particularly those who are vulnerable and in state care. Reunification programs and early intervention programs like the highly successful Financial Counselling program must be reinstated. Plans to cut and disperse the Aboriginal Family Scoping team (see next page) and Kanggarendi early intervention teams must be abandoned. Crucially, resourcing must be provided immediately to recruit at least 60 more Residential Care staff to ensure vulnerable children and young people in state care are safe and afforded the opportunity to live “the life they deserve”.

ABORIGINAL FAMILY SCOPING TEAM FINDS VALUABLE SUPPORT In 2014, the Nyland Child Protection Systems Royal Commission investigated the adequacy of South Australia’s laws and policies regarding our vulnerable young people. The Commission’s report recommended creating a dedicated family scoping unit for Aboriginal children. In response, the Aboriginal Family Scoping Team (AFST) was established in the new Department for Child Protection (DCP) which in itself was also a recommendation of the Nyland Royal Commission. The highly skilled Aboriginal Family Scoping Team practitioners bring deep cultural knowledge and expertise which is invaluable to supporting Aboriginal children and their families. With their specialised grasp of complex cultural networks, they provide referrals for family placement options and cultural connections for the most vulnerable Aboriginal young people in South Australia. The DCP is currently proposing to disperse the Aboriginal programs across the Department and turn them into individual case workers in isolation within hubs, without the support or leadership of Cultural Supervisors and Senior Practitioners. They

did not sign up for this role and it puts many of them in a difficult position when working with families. This proposal is yet another example of the current government trend to reduce early intervention programs, which started with the removal of Financial Counsellors. The proposal to disperse the AFST program across the Department led to a request by the PSA to its members asking for letters of support for the AFST workers. The call generated a number of very positive responses, which have been useful to Trish, Elijah and Geoff, (pictured) the team of Worksite Representitives who have been working hard to put together a solid defence of their service. At the time of going to press, a dispute lodged by the PSA about the dispersion proposal citing failure to consult, safety and workload issues, is before the SA Employment Tribunal. Members who sent in messages of support make it very clear that losing a critical service such as AFST means this work then

There is a crucial “ need for Aboriginal

people working in Child Protection to be culturally safe and supported. Members have also made it clear that it is not okay to treat our Aboriginal colleagues in such a disrespectful way.

falls to social workers, who already have competing and urgent workload pressures. As a result, even with the best of intentions, the close collaborative work that is the AFST’s speciality can easily fall by the wayside. There is a crucial need for Aboriginal people working in Child Protection to be culturally safe and supported. Members have also made it clear that it is not okay to treat our Aboriginal colleagues in such a disrespectful way.



TRAIN WRECK The privatisation of our state’s passenger train service has been a mess from the outset. No matter how hard this state government tries to sell the supposed benefits of privatisation, the public knows there’s not a single ethical or economic reason to hand our essential public services to wealthy multinationals. The latest and perhaps clearest example is the privatisation of our trains.

However, operational data and numerous national customer experience surveys conducted over recent years place South Australia’s passenger train service near the top in the country. Some time after, transport department head Tony Braxton-Smith, at a meeting attended by the PSA, said the key driver for privatisation was budget savings. There were even claims from the new Minister, Corey Wingard, that privatising the trains would save the public hundreds of millions of dollars every year. He was later forced to backtrack after admitting he didn’t know the current cost of running the trains.

The government has tried to railroad the public into believing privatising the operations of our trains is a good idea. And we’ve learned there are few limits to the spin and intrigue employed to get the deal done.

Subsequently providing more accurate figures in parliament, Minister Wingard revealed the significantly more expensive annual cost of running our trains under a private operator – a whopping $45 million more than under public management.

The story keeps changing

Awarded the contract despite significant probity controversies around their bid, Keolis Downer claimed our trains service would be better with them in charge.

When the privatisation was first mooted, beleaguered Transport Minister Stephan Knoll, said it was all about improving and ‘modernising’ what he and his colleagues claimed was an underperforming service.


But just weeks before handover on January 31, the private operator admitted they were

Public Sector Review Magazine | FEBRUARY 2021

47 train drivers short, and worse, they hadn’t received approval to operate by the national regulator. A few days before handover the shortage of 47 drivers became 100, plus another 70 public servants in other roles. Having made a monumental error in handing over our trains to a company not capable of fulfilling the contract, the state government then announced they would direct public sector employees to work for the private operator for a period that could be up to two years. This is an arrangement that raises serious ethical questions about the use of public servants to prop up a for-profit multinational conglomerate.

Job security gone, safety in question Few people would knowingly put their job at risk, especially during uncertain times like these consequently a significant number of workers decided not to transfer to the private provider on the grounds their job security simply isn’t guaranteed. Despite the initial protections achieved by unions for workers choosing to transfer to the private provider, there is little doubt

that once the current enterprise agreement expires, Keolis Downer will seek to reduce staff, slash wages and remove working conditions. Many rail workers have also voiced their reluctance to work for a private operator that may compromise safety standards. They are right to be concerned. Keolis runs, among others, Boston’s passenger train service which has been described as being among the worst in

the United States; it has been plagued by safety issues, including 50 derailments over a period of just five years.

Why privatise at all? As the operation of the trains was handed over to Keolis Downer, Minister Wingard told the Advertiser the state government still runs the timetable, still runs the schedule, still runs the ticket box, still owns all the trains, all the tracks, and all the stations. It raises questions – why privatise at all? What is in it for the government?

By paying Keolis Downer to take over the operation of the trains the state government is simply acting on its obsession with privatising essential public services despite the now Premier’s pre-election commitment, made at a PSA forum, that his government did not have a privatisation agenda. Given the outrageous expense of the contract, South Australian taxpayers will be paying more in the long-run, not less. Keolis Downer will be banking on it.

A FIRST FOR MENTAL HEALTH FIRST AID In his early career as a police officer, PSA General Secretary Nev Kitchin frequently witnessed the devastating impact of mental illness on people’s behaviour. He would be called out to distressing situations where people would be arrested, sometimes placed into mental health institutions for a period then released without the issues at the root of the problem being addressed. Time and time again, Nev would meet people stuck in a revolving door of mental health crises where stigma and misunderstanding often made effective treatment for mental illness a rarity. Decades later, as General Secretary of the PSA, Nev saw an opportunity to make a positive difference to this situation. In the negotiations with the State Government for the 2017 SA Modern Public Sector Enterprise Agreement Salaried (SAMPSEAS), the PSA put forward a ground-breaking clause proposing accredited Mental Health First Aid training. The PSA was successful in incorporating its clause into the enterprise agreement, believed to be the first such clause achieved in Australia by a union. As a result, many Health & Safety Representatives (HSRs), First Aid Officers and others have undertaken accredited training. HSRs and others are given the tools to recognise the signs, symptoms or the telltale indicators that people need

help. The training focuses on thoughtfully and constructively working towards a positive and appropriate course of action.

term benefits of better morale and job satisfaction, increased productivity and lower work absenteeism.

“There’s recent research saying one in five Australians are likely to have experienced a mental illness in the previous 12 months. That being the case, many will be working when that illness occurs.” says Nev. “At times, it can be hard to distinguish between when work stress turns into a mental health problem or when existing mental health problems become

For his part, Nev Kitchin is proud the PSA pushed so hard for the inclusion of the accredited Mental Health First Aid training clause into the Enterprise Agreement. “The success of Mental Health First Aid training indicates how much attitudes are changing for the better. People are now far more open-minded about addressing the

No matter what occupation someone has, working “ life cannot be easily separated from the rest of life and when mental health issues arise, it can have a powerful disruptive impact in the wider workplace.

exacerbated by stress at work. No matter what occupation someone has, working life cannot be easily separated from the rest of life and when mental health issues arise, it can have a powerful disruptive impact in the wider workplace.” Triggers can range from stress to domestic violence, family conflict, bullying, relationship breakdown, medication problems, chemical imbalances and diagnosed disorders. The training emphasises positive, non-judgemental engagement, with the objective of creating a mentally healthy workplace with less conflict and stress. This delivers real long

challenges of mental health than once was the case. Members have told me that the training has been very beneficial for them and their workplace.” “It’s also pleasing how other unions have recognised that the inclusion of this training into Enterprise Agreements is a groundbreaking initiative. A number of unions here in South Australia and interstate have contacted us about the form of wording we have used and the strategies we used to gain its inclusion into the Agreement. It’s good to see how a new idea, for which we had to make a strong case, has gone on to be so successful.”


In mid-November, Yamba was closed as a testing site and Joanne returned to Adelaide just in time to be part of the response to the Parafield cluster outbreak. Working at testing stations in Victoria Park, Smithfield and Roma Mitchell Secondary College, these were some of the most dramatic situations she experienced. “With the help of amazing Australian Defence Force nurses and paramedics we did 483 tests in one shift.” Since 1 December, Joanne has been located in Port Augusta at the testing station just south of the town, where the commercial freight transports and travellers stop. She’s currently with a good team who have a great sense of humour - “that’s really important!”


A YEAR UNLIKE ANY OTHER Until this time last year, Joanne McEntee had led a peaceful existence with all the comforts and joys of secure suburban Adelaide life. That all changed in 2020, a year which took her on a journey across many unique and intense career experiences – all without leaving the state. Joanne has worked as an Administrative Services Officer for the Women’s and Children’s Health Network for 16 years across three departments. Like so many of us, when the COVID-19 pandemic first hit in China then Europe last year, she was deeply concerned about how bad could it get here. Joanne had already undertaken State Disaster training in logistics administration in 2018 and was on call for events such as the COVID-19 pandemic. “My first Activation in March 2020 was as part of the phone team ringing local Ruby Princess embarkees. It was very interesting and satisfying work.” Soon after she was asked to join the COVID-19 Hotline Enquiries team answering calls from the public and sometimes medicos. “It had its challenges: we needed to be across a great deal of information which was updated frequently and we had to give people important advice which could have significant consequences. There was so


much to remember! And there was also a big plus: the sense of dedication that this work drew out of those of us on the team.” During a break from the hotline work after four months, Joanne was asked to be part of the regional testing of interstate travellers. Having made a commitment from the beginning that she was going to be part of the effort to stop COVID-19, she gladly accepted. During her four month stint at the Yamba Quarantine Station on the Sturt Highway east of Renmark, Joanne and her colleagues would take 50 to 200 test swabs in a day. They worked in two person teams, one as Collector (who did the actual swabbing) and one as Scribe (who managed the records of each test). Joanne, working as a Collector or a Scribe, found that the testing required tact and some careful persuasion in order to be able to correctly swab the right throat and nasal tissues to obtain viable tests. She also gained an insight into the lives of the truckies who carry the nation’s freight. “Interstate truck drivers would return weekly. You got to know them, remembered their names... and I gained great respect for who they are and what they do.”

Public Sector Review Magazine | FEBRUARY 2021

How has she kept going? “I made a commitment to all things COVID-19 and that still stands. So where there’s a need, my head and my heart still say yes. And you need resilience. You couldn’t run from problems but had to face them. You just learnt to roll with things and cope.” The challenges of the job were many: the mozzies, the flies, freezing cold winds, the hot blowing dust, walking through floods in gumboots, living out of a suitcase in motels, to name only a few. The rewards for Joanne, however, were also many – the camaraderie, the humour and where tenacity and teamwork has been rewarded with a deep sense of accomplishment. The time spent in valued working relationships, where everyone knew the scope of the job, how to do it and then got down to it, is clearly very satisfying. She puts it this way: “Amidst the challenges both professionally and personally, I’ve endeavoured to work towards making things better. Through working collaboratively with others, many situations can be engineered to move forward in good directions. That’s what matters to me.” As for the future, Joanne is eyeing the approaching massive round of COVID-19 vaccinations across the state – there’s a big job coming. Her passionate commitment to ‘all things COVID-19’ remains undiminished. The tenacity and fortitude described here is a testament to our great public sector and our wonderful members dedicated to serving our community. Joanne’s story, a tour of duty through the front-lines of South Australia’s COVID-19 response, is only one of many that really need to be told and recorded. These are remarkable days.

VALE PAUL MORONEY state’s arts and cultural institutions – SA Museum, State Library, Country Arts and others – was a good fit for someone who loved the arts.

It is with great sorrow the PSA acknowledges the passing of Paul Moroney. A PSA organiser from 2016 until late 2020 after having been a longtime union member, Organiser and Worksite Rep in the union movement, Paul was dearly loved by his work colleagues and PSA members. Paul was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in September 2020 and had only weeks to come to terms with his mortality. Late last year palliative care became the only option left. A Port Augusta boy, Paul had always been very people orientated, who worked for a union because his core values were justice and fair play. Paul was a great listener, always present

in a conversation and took a warm-hearted interest in the lives of others. This made him a natural network builder whose passionate and effective activism ranged across Autism SA, LGBTQI rights, Indigenous issues and more. His PSA work in many of our

Even when facing the biggest challenge of all, Paul’s joyful spirit lifted his many friends. This can be seen by the wide circle of people who rallied around him in the last months of his life. In his last days he held court with a full diary of constant visitors who joined him in celebrating his full and passionate life. With his long hair and surrounded by flowers, laughing with family and friends, he had every appearance of a guru. Perhaps that was his gift - to remind us that life is all about human contact, love, relationships, friends and kindness. Paul Moroney 6 May 1968 – 22 January 2021

ON YER BIKE, IAN! Ian Peak, one of the PSA’s most longstanding staff members has opted to retire after a long association with the PSA going back to his days as a social worker at the Adelaide Children’s Hospital in the 1980s. As a member, he served on the PSA Council and Executive before joining the PSA staff as an Industrial Officer in 1994. Ian’s work in classification matters was the stuff of legend. His unique advocacy style resulted in the term “Peakspeak” being coined and recorded in SA Employment Tribunal archives. He is a famously keen long distance pushbike tourer. Whatever the future holds for Ian will entail two wheels, a fluoro top and a wide open road. All the best, Ian!

PSA MEMBERS’ RIGHTS HOTLINE Phone: (08) 8205 3227 Email:

For information and advice on your working and employment conditions, contact the PSA Members’ Rights Hotline between 8:45am – 5:00pm Monday to Friday.


THE ANY HOUSE, JOB ANYWHERE, ANYTIME the tenant, whom we ultimately discovered was his mother, did not want to explain who he was or the circumstances behind him living in the house. After many weeks of follow-up meetings with Child Protection Services and conversations with the tenant on her own, we discovered that for the previous decade, the youth had been for all intents and purposes invisible to the wider world.

A number of years ago, I worked as a housing manager in the northern suburbs of Adelaide. Part of my role was to visit tenants, inspect the condition of their home and where needed, to link them into other services. On this particular day I called in on a tenant, a middle aged woman with a limited command of English. Having previously worked in law enforcement and as a government investigator, I couldn’t help noticing that she was particularly nervous and appeared fearful. I went through a checklist about the condition of the property and then asked her if I could look through the two bedrooms of her small semi-attached unit. According to the existing records, she was the sole tenant of her unit, which was sparsely furnished with the basics and devoid of any family photos. The spare bedroom contained nothing but an older style two door clothes

cupboard which had been placed diagonally across one corner of the room. The tenant was standing close by and I sensed her increasing tension as I looked around the room. I opened the cupboard and as I did so dirty clothes, the type of clothes a young man would wear,spilled out across the floor. For some reason – call it intuition or just being naturally suspicious – I felt the angle of the cupboard seemed odd. I reached in and tapped the flimsy plywood at the back of the cupboard, which fell away to reveal a startled boy of slight build, aged perhaps 12 years old. I could hear the woman’s distress and I asked the youth to step out from the cupboard. The youth was reluctant to explain who he was or why he had been hiding behind the cupboard and equally

There was no record of him having attended school, no record of the mother receiving any form of social security benefits and no record of him with any other department. His mother told us that he had become violent, refused to go to school and physically threatened her if she tried to get any help. For much of his short life, the young man had been living in the tiny world that was his bedroom, the semi-detached unit and its small backyard. He had no social interaction with anybody else and no friends of his own. Equally, his mother had no immediate family support structures, no relationship with her neighbours, no friends and very limited English. I suspect she had also come from a cultural background where men exerted considerable power and control over women. Ultimately, Child Protection Services took over his welfare and that of his mother. To this day I have no idea whatever happened to the boy in the cupboard but it was a clear demonstration about how little we know about what goes on behind the front door of any house, anywhere, anytime. Nev Kitchin

The Review is keen to print short stories from PSA members’ working lives, telling of experiences and events that have given you pause for thought. It could be an incident that highlighted the impact that your job has on people’s lives, or on your own life. It could be the recollection of an encounter with an unforgettable person or an unlikely situation whose recollection has stayed with you. In summary, it’s a chance to talk about the humanity underpinning your job. Please make the people in the story anonymous where appropriate and do not defame or offend them. Stories should be limited to 500 words. Stories will be selected at the Editor’s discretion. Published stories will receive a PSA gift card. Email stories to


Public Sector Review Magazine | FEBRUARY 2021

YOUR SUPER FIT CHECKLIST It’s a new year and we often make promises to ourselves such as health and fitness goals, but do you think about your financial goals in the same way? This checklist will help you think about super and feeling financially fit. • Are my contact details up to date? If we can stay in touch with you, then we can make sure you have the information you need when you need it. Visit to log into your account. • Where is all my super? If you’ve had multiple jobs you might have super elsewhere. Having your super in one place means you have a one stop shop

for your superannuation. Find out more about the implications of consolidating at • Do I review my investment choice? You may not need to change your investment choice regularly, but it is worth reflecting on whether you are invested in the best option for you. Visit the Education Hub at and see if your current investment choice suits your circumstances. • What are my financial goals? How much will you need to support your short and long-term goals? Use MoneySmart budget planner to keep track of your expenses and work out potential ways you could top up your super. With extra income from recent tax cuts, consider salary sacrificing into your super. • How am I tracking? Based on where you are today, do you know how much super will you have at retirement and how

long will it last? You can use the Projection calculator to help you work this out. • Is my insurance cover enough? When things change in your life, have a look at your insurance cover. Use an Insurance Cover Estimator for guidance on what your cover level should be. Need to chat? For personalised, one-on-one advice, you can speak with your own financial planner or take advantage of the services available through Industry Fund Services (IFS). If you get advice from IFS you can pay for the financial planning service direct from your Triple S account. We’re here to help. You can contact us on 1300 369 315 or email

Disclaimer: The superannuation schemes administered by Super SA are exempt public sector superannuation schemes and are not regulated by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) or the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA). Super SA is not required to hold an Australian Financial Services Licence to provide general advice about a Super SA product. The information in this publication is of a general nature only and has been prepared without taking into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. Super SA recommends that before making any decisions about its products you consider the appropriateness of this information in the context of your own objectives, financial situation and needs, read the Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) and seek financial advice from a licensed financial adviser in relation to your financial position and requirements. This document is current at 14 January 2021.


ITCHING TO GET OUT OF THE HOUSE? Come stay at PSA's Holiday Home units in Robe! Our Robe holiday units areconveniently located just 200 metres from the foreshore and 400 metres from the picturesque Limestone Coast township. Whether its relaxing on the beach, bushwalking in a nearby conservation park, or kicking up your heels with some local live music and beverages, there's bound to be something for everyone! With loads of sightseeing possibilities, like the historic lighthouse and gaol ruins, Robe is a great destination for the whole family or for that unplanned romantic getaway. For more information on PSA Holiday Homes, check out or contact the PSA at to make a booking.

PSA MEMBERS HITTING THE ROAD AFTER COMPETITION WIN Did you know you could win a $300 Big 4 Holiday Parks voucher for you and a colleague when you join them up to the PSA?

Craig South and Taras Lesiw work as Protective Services Officers at SAPOL’s Security Control Centre. Late last year Craig suggested his manager Taras join the PSA and was named as the referrer on Taras’s application form. As a result, both went into the drawer to win two $300 Big 4 Holiday Park vouchers. When contacted by PSA General Secretary Nev Kitchin to say they had won, Craig said the vouchers will be put to good use. “Both Taras and I have caravans, in fact we bought ours recently and because of COVID we haven’t had a chance to use it much. We’ll probably go somewhere local like Mannum or Renmark, which both have Big 4 Parks.” Do you have a colleague who is yet to join the PSA? Tell them why joining the PSA is important and that joining now could put them in the running to win! Go to for more information.


Public Sector Review Magazine | FEBRUARY 2021

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SUFFERING FROM BACK PAIN – WHAT COULD IT MEAN? Sitting or standing still for too long, and repetitive bending exercises can all lead to back aches which can be painful and inconvenient. For the lucky ones, the pain is only temporary, but for those who suffer from chronic back pain (around 16% of the Australian population) the effects can cause serious disruption to their lives. Professor Stuart Brierley, Director of the Visceral Pain Research Group within the Flinders University Flinders Health and Medical Research Institute and Director of the Hopwood Centre for Neurobiology at SAHMRI, says there are a few different types of back pain, and that getting to the cause of the problem is essential for longterm relief.

Types of back pain Broadly speaking, Professor Brierley states there are five different types of back pain, each stemming back to a different cause. These causes are: • Congenital problems (something that is present from birth) such as spina bifida and scoliosis. • Injury related, such as tearing a muscle while playing sport, or receiving some sort of trauma. • Age and use related, such as arthritis or disc degeneration. • Nerve/spine conditions and damage including sciatica, osteoporosis, or infection of the spine. • Referred pain which occurs when the back hurts, but the cause of the pain may be centred somewhere

else, such as in cases of fibromyalgia, endometriosis, or irritable bowel syndrome.

How is back pain treated? “Treatment for back pain is considered on a case by case basis,” advises Professor Brierly. “Treatments for acute back pain can range from non-steroidal anti-inflammatory tablets and creams as well as ice or heat packs and gentle stretching. Treatment for chronic pain is dependent on accurate diagnosis of the cause,” Professor Brierley states. “Thankfully there have been advances in non-invasive diagnostic techniques that we can use for back pain (such as CT scans and bone scans) so we can get a better understanding of what is going on.”

Improving your workstation ergonomics With many people working from home more often because of COVID-19 recommendations, Professor Brierley recommends that it’s important to have your work area set up properly. “At the office, our employers do a pretty good job of ensuring good ergonomic

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practices are in place. But many people haven’t moved these office essentials to their homes. Instead, they may be sitting on the couch with their laptop or hunched over the coffee table. If you are doing that for eight hours a day then back and muscle pain can become a real problem.”

When should I see the GP about my back pain? “It is always a good idea to see you GP or specialist if you are feeling pain,” Professor Brierley says. “The sooner we can see a patient, the better chance we have of helping them overcome the pain or providing them with effective relief for the symptoms – particularly in the case of chronic pain. In all cases, if the pain is related to something serious, then the earlier we can detect something the better chance there is for positive long-term health outcomes.” The information contained here is of a general nature and does not take into account your personal medical situation. The information is not a substitute for independent professional medical advice and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or used for therapeutic purposes. Should you require specific medical information, please seek advice from your healthcare practitioner. Health Partners does not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information provided.