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Ingram v State of Queensland (Department of Housing and Public Works)

[2021] QIRC 11

Ingram v State of Queensland (Department of Housing and Public Works)[2021] QIRC 11

QUEENSLAND INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS COMMISSION

CITATION:

Ingram v State of Queensland (Department of Housing and Public Works) [2021] QIRC 011

PARTIES:

Ingram, Frances Mary

(Appellant)

v

State of Queensland (Department of Housing and Public Works)

(Respondent)

CASE NO:

PSA/2020/314

PROCEEDING:

Public Service Appeal – Appointment to Higher Classification Level

DELIVERED ON:

19 January 2021

MEMBER:

McLennan IC

HEARD AT:

On the papers

ORDERS:

  1. That the appeal is dismissed.

CATCHWORDS:

INDUSTRIAL LAW – PUBLIC SERVICE APPEAL – where the appellant was reviewed under s 149C of the Public Service Act 2008 – where the outcome of the review was that the appellant was not permanently appointed – where the incumbent of the role was returning – consideration of ‘the position’ – consideration of the scope of a review under s 149C – consideration of ‘genuine operational requirement’.

LEGISLATION AND DIRECTIVES:

Acts Interpretation Act 1954 (Qld) s 14A

Directive 13/20 Appointing a public service employee to a higher classification level cl 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11

Industrial Relations Act 2016 (Qld) s 564, s 562B, s 562C

Public Service Act 2008 (Qld) s 120, s 149, s 149A, s 149B, s 149C, s 194, s 196, s 197

Statutory Instruments Act 1992 (Qld) s 7, s 14

CASES:

Goodall v State of Queensland (Unreported decision of the Supreme Court of Queensland, Dalton J, 10 October 2018)

Holcombe v State of Queensland (Department of Housing and Public Works) [2020] QIRC 195

Katae v State of Queensland & Anor [2018] QSC 225

Page v John Thompson and Lesley Dwyer, As Chief Executive Officer, West Moreton Hospital and Health Service [2014] QSC 252

Project Blue Sky Inc v Australian Broadcasting Authority (1998) 194 CLR 355

Reasons for Decision

Introduction

  1. [1]
    Mrs Frances Mary Ingram (the Appellant) has filed an appeal against a conversion decision (the decision) made by Mr/s Tully Stewart (the decision maker), Acting Director of Human Resources for the State of Queensland (Department of Housing and Public Works) (the Respondent, the Department). 
  1. [2]
    Mrs Ingram is currently substantively employed in the role of AO7 Principal Project Officer for the Respondent.
  1. [3]
    However, she has been continuously performing the duties of AO8 Manager (‘the AO8 position’) with the Respondent since 25 August 2018.

The Decision

  1. [4]
    The terms of the decision were contained in correspondence from the decision maker dated 23 October 2020. 
  1. [5]
    The decision subject of this appeal is the Department’s determination not to permanently convert Mrs Ingram’s employment to the higher classification level – that is, to the AO8 position.

Jurisdiction

Decision against which an appeal may be made

  1. [6]
    Section 194 of the Public Service Act 2008 (Qld) (the PS Act) identifies the categories of decisions against which an appeal may be made.  Section 194(1)(e)(iii) of the PS Act provides that an appeal may be made against a decision “…under section 149C not to appoint an employee to a position at a higher classification level, if the employee has been seconded to or acting at the higher classification level for a continuous period of at least 2 years.”
  1. [7]
    Section 197 of the PS Act allows for an appeal to be heard and decided by the IRC.  An appeal is initiated by providing the Industrial Registrar an appeal notice stating the details of the decision being appealed against and the reasons for the appeal.
  1. [8]
    Section 196(e) of the PS Act prescribes that the employee the subject of the conversion decision may appeal.  Mrs Ingram meets that requirement.
  1. [9]
    I am satisfied that the conversion decision made by the Department is able to be appealed.

Timeframe for appeal

  1. [10]
    Section 564(3) of the Industrial Relations Act 2016 (Qld) (the IR Act) requires that an appeal be lodged within 21 days after the day the decision appealed against is given. That is the relevant inquiry with respect to timeframes. I note that despite the question posed in the Form 89 – Appeal Notice regarding when the decision was received.
  1. [11]
    The decision was given to Mrs Ingram on 23 October 2020 by email.
  1. [12]
    The Notice of Appeal was filed with the Industrial Registry on 13 November 2020. 
  1. [13]
    I am satisfied that the appeal was filed by the Appellant within the required timeframe.

Appeal principles

  1. [14]
    Section 562B(2)(3) of the IR Act provides that the appeal is decided by reviewing the decision appealed against "to decide whether the decision appealed against was fair and reasonable".
  1. [15]
    The appeal is not conducted by way of re-hearing,[1] but rather involves a review of the decision arrived at by the Respondent and the associated decision-making process.[2] 
  1. [16]
    Findings made by the Department, which are reasonably open to it, should not be disturbed on appeal.  Even so, in reviewing the decision appealed against, the IRC member may allow other evidence to be taken into account.[3]
  1. [17]
    The issue for my determination is whether the decision not to convert Mrs Ingram’s employment status to the higher classification level was fair and reasonable in the circumstances.[4]

What decisions can the IRC Member make?

  1. [18]
    Section 562C of the IR Act prescribes that the Commission may determine to either:
  1. Confirm the decision appealed against; or
  2. Set the decision aside and return the matter to the decision maker with a copy of the decision on appeal and any directions considered appropriate; or
  3. Set the decision aside and substitute another decision.

Submissions

  1. [19]
    In accordance with the Directions Order issued on 13 November 2020, the parties filed written submissions.
  1. [20]
    Pursuant to section 451(1) of the IR Act, no hearing was conducted in deciding this Appeal.  The matter was decided on the papers.

The decision of 23 October 2020 (subject to this appeal)

  1. [21]
    The decision maker conveyed the following reasons for not permanently converting Mrs Ingram to the higher classification level:

The reasons for the Deputy Director-General’s decision are as follows:

  • The purpose of your current placement in the role of AO8, Manager within Social and Affordable Housing Programs, is to backfill the substantive employee while the substantive employee is relieving in an alternative position.
  • Should the substantive employee return to their position of AO8, Manager within Social and Affordable Housing Programs, there will no longer be a continuing need for you to be engaged in that role.

Appeal Notice

  1. [22]
    Mrs Ingram set out why she believes the decision was unfair and unreasonable in the Appeal Notice filed on 13 November 2020. Those reasons are summarised as follows:
  • Mrs Ingram has a long history of meritorious service and has been extended several times in higher duties. 
  • Mrs Ingram has been undertaking various Manager roles with the Department since 2014. During that time, Mrs Ingram was unsuccessful in obtaining permanent tenure during a recruitment process for the role. She was initially engaged to backfill one Manager, but through a series of different employee movements has now been engaged to backfill a different Manager.
  • Mrs Ingram believes the substantive employee does not wish to return to the Manager position, and that a vacant position is not required for conversion.

Mrs Ingram’s further submissions

  1. [23]
    Mrs Ingram’s further submissions, filed 20 November 2020, may be summarised as follows (insofar as they differ from her earlier submissions):
  • Prior to 2014, Mrs Ingram had engaged in higher duties from 2007 to 2012.
  • Mrs Ingram has demonstrated merit in the position.
  • There are several Manager positions, and the incumbent of that position is said to have secured another position.
  • Regardless of the position held, the period of higher duties has been extensive and regularly extended.
  • There is a difference between genuine operational reasons and a vacant position.
  • No genuine consideration was given to Mrs Ingram’s extended period in higher duties.

Respondent submissions

  1. [24]
    The Department’s submissions, filed 27 November 2020, can be summarised as follows:
  • The Decision was fair and reasonable, and made in accordance with s 149C and the Directive.
  • There are no issues as to merit regarding Mrs Ingram.
  • Mrs Ingram’s current temporary placement in the higher duties position is to backfill the substantive employee relieving in an alternative position. There will no longer be a continuing need for Mrs Ingram to be placed in that position once the substantive employee returns.
  • The return of the substantive employee is not speculative; Mrs Ingram was extended until 31 January 2021 because the substantive employee’s relieving arrangement was also extended until 31 January 2021.
  • With respect to the submission that the decision maker erred in failing to give due consideration to the genuine operational requirements of the department and determined not to appoint the Appellant on the basis that the role she has been acting in is not substantively vacant, the Department reiterates that it does not have a genuine operational need to permanently employ, on a full-time basis, two employees in the same position.
  • The Directive recognises that there are circumstances where temporary higher classification engagement is warranted. That is set out in cl 4.2, insofar as it relates to an existing employee being absent to perform another role.
  • The reasons contained in the Decision addressed the relevant criteria.
  • In support of their contentions about the interpretation of the term ‘the position’ within s 149C, namely that the review is conducted with respect to the precise position occupied by the employee at the time of requesting the review and no other positions, the Department relied upon Holcombe v State of Queensland (Department of Housing and Public Works) [2020] QIRC 195.
  • The Decision should be confirmed.

Appellant’s submissions in reply

  1. [25]
    In response to the Department’s written materials above, Mrs Ingram’s reply submissions filed 4 December 2020 largely reiterated her previous submissions. Insofar as they differ, they can be summarised as follows:
  • There are two manager positions in the team, and Mrs Ingram has worked in each of those positions. 
  • The default method of public service employment is tenured, and that is reflected in cl 4.2 of the Directive.
  • “The substantive occupant had been on extended sick leave, and upon returning to Programs several months ago, has been relieving at level “doubled up” against another AO8 position in Programs.”
  • The secondment is not for a fixed period, or for a defined or known period, and so it is not truly temporary.
  • At times during the last two years, the Department has budgeted for and appointed dual officers against single positions when operationally convenient. That renders the Department’s submissions about the appointment of two persons to the same position less than persuasive.
  • The Department has not undertaken an appropriate analysis of the circumstances that might affect “the likelihood of the roles (both mine and that of the substantive occupant) being ongoing.”
  • Mrs Ingram is not aware of any discussions with the substantive occupant regarding Mrs Ingram’s appointment, or any intent by the substantive occupant to return to the role. There is therefore an ongoing need for Mrs Ingram to continue in the role.
  • The term ‘should’ in the decision letter is not tantamount to surety that the incumbent will return.
  • There is said to be no strategic workforce management within the Department.
  • Mrs Ingram seeks to be permanently appointed to the higher duties position.

The review of a decision as to whether or not to permanently appoint a public service employee acting in a position at a higher classification level

  1. [26]
    The legislative scheme for the review of a decision to convert an employee to a higher classification level, in the above circumstances, is contained in the IR Act, PS Act and in the Directive 13/20 Appointing a public service employee to a higher classification level (the Directive).
  1. [27]
    Section 149C of the PS Act provides (Emphasis added):

149C  Appointing public service employee acting in position at higher classification level

  1. (1)
    This section applies in relation to a public service employee if the employee—
  1. (a)
    is seconded to, under section 120(1)(a), or is acting at, a higher classification level in the department in which the employee holds an appointment or is employed; and
  1. (b)
    is seconded to, under section 120(1)(a), or is acting at, has been seconded to or acting at the higher classification level for a continuous period of at least 1 year; and
  1. (c)
    is seconded to, under section 120(1)(a), or is acting at, is eligible for appointment to the position at the higher classification level having regard to the merit principle.
  1. (2)
    However, this section does not apply to the following public services employees—
  1. (a)
    a casual employee;
  1. (b)
    a non-industrial instrument employee;
  1. (c)
    an employee who is seconded to or acting in a position that is ordinarily held by a non-industrial instrument employee.
  1. (3)
    The employee may ask the department’s chief executive to appoint the employee to the position at the higher classification level as a general employee on tenure or a public service officer, after—
  1. (a)
    the end of 1 year of being seconded to or acting at the higher classification level;

and

  1. (b)
    each 1-year period after the end of the period mentioned in paragraph (a).
  1. (4)
    The department’s chief executive must decide the request within the required period.

(4A) In making the decision, the department’s chief executive must have regard to

  1. (a)
    the genuine operational requirements of the department; and
  1. (b)
    the reasons for each decision previously made, or taken to have been made, under this section in relation to the person during the person’s continuous period of employment at the higher classification level.
  1. (5)
    If the department’s chief executive decides to refuse the request, the chief executive must give the employee a notice stating
  1. (a)
    reasons for the decision; and
  1. (b)
    the total continuous period for which the person has been acting at the higher classification level in the department; and
  1. (c)
    how many times the person’s engagement at the higher classification level has been extended; and
  1. (d)
    each decision previously made, or taken to have been made, under this section in relation to the person during the person’s continuous period of employment at the higher classification level.
  1. (6)
    If the department’s chief executive does not make the decision within the required period, the chief executive is taken to have refused the request.
  1. (7)
    The commission chief executive must make a directive about appointing an employee to a position at a higher classification level under this section.
  1. (8)
    In this section—

continuous period, in relation to an employee acting at a higher classification level, has the meaning given for the employee under a directive made under subsection (7).

required period, for making a decision under subsection (4), means—

  1. (a)
    the period stated in an industrial instrument within which the decision must be made; or
  1. (b)
    if paragraph (a) does not apply—28 days after the request is made.
  1. [28]
    Further, section 194(1)(e)(iii) of the PS Act Act provides (Emphasis added):

194 Decisions against which appeals may be made

  1. (1)
    An appeal may be made against the following decisions—
  1. (e)
    a decision (each a conversion decision)—
  1. (iii)
    under section 149C not to appoint an employee to a position at a higher classification level, if the employee has been seconded to or acting at the higher classification level for a continuous period of at least 2 years;
  1. [29]
    It is noted that Directive came into effect on 25 September 2020. 
  1. [30]
    The Directive relevantly provides:

3. Application

3.4 The requirement to advertise roles in the directive relating to recruitment and selection does not apply to the appointment of an employee to a higher classification level under this directive. However, if an agency is seeking to permanently appoint an employee to a higher classification level prior to the employee becoming eligible to request an appointment under section 149C of the PS Act, the appointment must comply with the recruitment and selection directive.

4. Principles

4.1 An employee seconded to or assuming the duties and responsibilities of a higher classification level in the agency in which the employee is substantively employed can be appointed to the position at the higher classification level as a general employee on tenure or a public service officer following a written request to the chief executive.

4.2 Secondment to or assuming the duties and responsibilities of a higher classification level should only be used when permanent appointment to the role is not viable or appropriate. Circumstances that would support the temporary engagement of an employee at a higher classification level include:

  1. (a)
    when an existing employee takes a period of leave such as parental, long service, recreation or long-term sick leave and needs to be replaced until the date of their expected return
  1. (b)
    when an existing employee is absent to perform another role within their agency, or is on secondment, and the agency does not use permanent relief pools for those types of roles
  1. (c)
    to perform work for a particular project or purpose that has a known end date
  1. (d)
    to perform work necessary to meet an unexpected short-term increase in workload

4.3 Under the Human Rights Act 2019 decision makers have an obligation to act and make decisions in a way that is compatible with human rights, and when making a decision under this directive, to give proper consideration to human rights.

5. Employee may request to be appointed at the higher classification level

5.1 Section 149C of the PS Act provides that an employee seconded or engaged in higher duties may submit a written request to the chief executive to permanently appoint the employee to the higher classification level as a general employee on tenure or a public service officer.

5.2 To be eligible to request consideration for appointment at the higher classification level under clause 5.1 the employee must:

  1. (a)
    have been seconded to or assuming the duties and responsibilities of the higher classification level
  1. (b)
    for a continuous period of at least one year
  1. (c)
    be eligible for appointment to the higher classification level having regard to the merit principle.

5.3 Under section 149C(3) of the PS Act, an eligible employee may request the chief executive to permanently appoint the employee to the higher classification level:

  1. (a)
    one year after being seconded to or assuming the duties and responsibilities of the higher classification level, and
  1. (b)
    each subsequent year where the employee continues their engagement at the higher classification level in the same role.

5.4 An employee may make one request for appointment in each one year period commencing on the employee becoming eligible to request under clause 5.3(a) or 5.3(b), and may make an additional request if the role becomes a substantive vacancy.

5.5 The chief executive must consider permanently appointing the employee to the higher classification level where a written request has been made under this clause.

6. Decision making

6.1 When deciding whether to permanently appoint the employee to the higher classification level as a general employee on tenure or a public service officer, the chief executive may consider whether the employee has any performance concerns that have been put to the employee and documented and remain unresolved, that would mean that the employee is no longer eligible for appointment to the position at the higher classification level having regard to the merit principle.

6.2 In accordance with section 149C(4A) of the PS Act, when deciding the request, the chief executive must have regard to:

  1. (a)
    the genuine operational requirements of the department, and
  1. (b)
    the reasons for each decision previously made, or deemed to have been made, under section 149C of the PS Act in relation to the employee during their continuous period of employment at the higher classification level.

6.3 In accordance with section 149C(6) of the PS Act, if the chief executive does not make the decision within 28 days, the chief executive is taken to have decided that the person’s engagement in the agency is to continue according to the terms of the existing secondment or higher duties arrangement.

6.4 Each agency must, upon request, give the Commission Chief Executive a report about the number of known deemed decisions occurring by operation of section 149C(6) of the PS Act.

7. Statement of reasons

7.1 A chief executive who decides to refuse a request made under clause 5 is required to provide a written notice that meets the requirements of section 149C(5) of the PS Act (Appendix A). The notice provided to the employee must, in accordance with section 27B of the Acts Interpretation Act 1954:

  1. (a)
    the genuine operational requirements of the department, and
  1. (b)
    refer to the evidence or other material on which those findings were based.

7.2 A written notice is not required to be prepared ‘after the fact’ to support a deemed decision made under clause 6.3.

8. Appeals

8.1 An employee eligible for review under clause 149C(3)(b), that is after two years of continuous engagement at the higher classification level, has a right of appeal provided for in section 194(1)(e)(iii) of the PS Act in relation to a decision not to permanently appoint the employee to the higher classification level.

8.2 In accordance with section 195(1)(j) of the PS Act, an employee does not have a right of appeal in relation to a decision not to permanently appoint the employee to the higher classification level in response to an application made under clause 149C(3)(a), that is if the employee has been seconded to or acting at the higher classification level for less than two years.

9. Exemption from advertising

9.1 Any requirement to advertise a role in a directive dealing with recruitment and selection does not apply when permanently appointing an employee under this directive. 

10. Transitional provisions

10.1 Section 295 of the PS Act sets out the transitional arrangements for employees seconded to or assuming the duties and responsibilities of a higher classification level who may now be eligible to request appointment at the higher classification level as a general employee on tenure or a public service officer.

11. Definitions

Agency has the meaning provided in clause 3.3 of this directive.

Chief executive, in the context of exercising a decision making power, includes a person to whom the chief executive has delegated the decision making power.

Continuous period for the purposes of this directive, means a period of unbroken engagement, including periods of authorised leave or absence, at the higher classification level in the same role, in the same agency.

Higher classification level means a classification level which has a higher maximum salary than the maximum salary of the classification level actually held by the employee. An employee who has assumed less than the full duties and responsibilities of the higher classification level and as a result receives remuneration at a relevant percentage of less than 100 per cent is not considered to be performing at the higher classification level.

Non-industrial instrument employee has the meaning given under the Industrial Relations Act 2016.

Public service agency means a department or public service office as provided for in section 49A of the PS Act.

Secondment has the meaning given under section 120(1)(a) of the PS Act.

Substantive vacancy means a recurrently funded position identified on an agency’s establishment list that does not have an ongoing incumbent appointed.

  1. [31]
    The Directive is a statutory instrument within the meaning of Section 7 of the Statutory Instruments Act 1992 (Qld).[5]
  1. [32]
    Section 14 of the Statutory Instruments Act 1992 (Qld) provides that certain provisions of the Acts Interpretation Act 1954 (Qld) apply to statutory instruments.  One of those is s 14A which provides that in the interpretation of a provision of an Act, the interpretation that will best achieve the purpose of the Act is to be preferred to any other interpretation. Schedule 1 to the Acts Interpretation Act 1954 (Qld) provides that 'purpose', for an act, includes policy objective.
  1. [33]
    The stated purpose of the Directive is:[6]

1. Purpose

1.1 The Public Service Act 2008 (PS Act) establishes employment on tenure is the default basis of employment in the public service, excluding non-industrial instrument employees, and sets out the circumstances where employment on tenure is not viable or appropriate

1.2 This directive:

  1. (a)
    highlights key sections in the PS Act dealing with appointing a public service employee assuming the duties and responsibilities of a position at a higher classification level
  1. (b)
    supports the opportunity to appoint an employee to a higher classification level where that employee has performed the role for one year and is eligible for appointment having regard to the merit principle
  1. (c)
    sets out procedures for requests and decisions.

Findings

  1. [34]
    I am required to decide this appeal by assessing whether or not the decision appealed against was fair and reasonable. 
  1. [35]
    This involves a review of the decision-making process utilised and the conversion decision arrived at. 

Eligibility for review of conversion

  1. [36]
    Section 149C(1) and (3) of the PS Act provides that an employee is eligible to request permanent appointment at the higher classification level after the end of one year.  This is restated at clause 4.1 of the Directive.
  1. [37]
    It is not a point of dispute between the parties that Mrs Ingram was eligible to request conversion to the higher classification level.

Purpose

  1. [38]
    In deciding this appeal, I note the significance of the legislative provisions identified and explained above.
  1. [39]
    In summary, the Directive’s status as a statutory instrument provides that the interpretation that will best achieve the purpose and / or policy objective of the Directive is to be preferred to any other interpretation.
  1. [40]
    In that regard, I recognise that one of the stated purposes of the Directive is to support “…the opportunity to appoint an employee to a higher classification level where that employee has performed the role for one year and is eligible for appointment having regard to the merit principle.”[7]

Decision criteria that must be considered

  1. [41]
    The PS Act and the Directive provides that, in making the decision regarding a higher classification conversion request, the chief executive must have regard to:
  1. Whether the employee is eligible for appointment to the position at the higher classification level having regard to the merit principle.
  1. The genuine operational requirements of the department. 
  1. The reasons for each decision previously made, or taken to have been made, under this section in relation to the person during the person’s continuous period of employment at the higher classification level.
  1. [42]
    Further, in the event that the higher classification conversion request is refused, the chief executive must give the employee a notice stating:
  1. The reasons for the decision; and
  1. The total continuous period for which the person has been acting at the higher classification level in the department; and
  1. How many times the person’s engagement at the higher classification level has been extended; and
  1. Each decision previously made, or taken to have been made, under this section in relation to the person during the person’s continuous period of employment at the higher classification level.

The notice provided to the employee must:

  1. Set out the findings on material questions of fact, and
  1. Refer to the evidence or other material on which those findings were based.

Merit

  1. [43]
    There is no dispute with respect to Mrs Ingram’s merit. 

What is the position subject of this appeal?

  1. [44]
    Before assessing whether there are any genuine operational requirements of the department that may prevent the conversion request, the question of the actual position that is subject of this appeal must be settled.
  1. [45]
    The PS Act, at s 149C(1)(c), provides that s 149C applies to a public service employee if they are eligible for appointment to the position. Further, s 149C(3) provides that the employee may ask to be appointed to the position at the higher classification level. The power afforded to the department to permanently appoint Mrs Ingram is confined to the position into which she has been placed at the time of the review. That can be contrasted with the entitlement to request a review, which merely requires that, amongst other things, a person be engaged in a higher classification level for a period. The term ‘the position’ is inherently more specific than ‘higher classification level’; many positions could be described as being of a higher classification level.
  1. [46]
    In that way, it can be said that an employee may be entitled to a review after engaging in a number of positions, but the review must be conducted against a precise position.
  1. [47]
    Mrs Ingram’s higher classification engagement was said to be for the purpose of backfilling an ‘incumbent’ employee. The question then becomes: what is that employee the incumbent of? They are not merely the incumbent of a generic position, but rather a particular position with a specific position name, classification and number. When they return, they are returning to that precise position.
  1. [48]
    The PS Act at s 149C, in concert with the Directive, creates a framework where if a person has been acting at a higher classification for a particular period, they may be permanently appointed to the position they occupy. There is no contemplation in those materials that the meaning of the position would be so broad as to encapsulate any position with the same title and classification anywhere in the workplace, or the city, or indeed the State.
  1. [49]
    By way of contrast, a broader ambit of the type proposed by Mrs Ingram is expressly imparted in other conversion reviews which immediately precede s 149C. In conducting a temporary employment review under ss 149A and 149B, the department’s chief executive may convert an employee to permanency if there is a continuing need for someone to be employed in the person’s role, or a role that is substantially the same. Following the review, the department chief executive may “offer to convert the person’s employment basis to employment as a general employee on tenure or a public service officer”. Therefore, the review is conducted against not only the present role, but a role which is substantially the same, and any appointment is not inherently tied to a particular position identified by a number.
  1. [50]
    The language of s 149C is narrower: the employee may ask the department’s chief executive to appoint the employee to the position at the higher classification level as a general employee on tenure or a public service officer. That does not empower the department chief executive to review the employee against positions which are substantially the same or appoint them to another comparable position. The power is expressly confined to the position occupied by the employee at that time.
  1. [51]
    The difference in language employed by the legislation, particularly where the sections appear successively, informs my interpretation of s 149C. The words of the section must be afforded meaning to give effect to the section, and cannot be ignored. If it had been intended that a broad-ranging review be engaged in, the legislature could well have employed the terminology employed in the preceding two sections. They pointedly did not do so.  
  1. [52]
    The Directive, in setting out its purpose at cl 1.2(b), provides that it “supports the opportunity to appoint an employee to a higher classification level where that employee has performed the role for one year and is eligible for appointment having regard to the merit principle”. At first blush, there is some inconsistency between that clause, and the terminology used in s 149C and indeed other parts of the Directive as set out above. However, any inconsistency is resolved by having appropriate regard for where those words appear. Cl 1.2 is not the source of power to make the permanent appointment. Instead, it is part of a succinct summary of the reason for the Directive. The precise power by which the Department may permanently appoint a person to a higher classification level is contained within s 149C of the PS Act, which is supplemented by the Directive. In that sense, there is no inconsistency between the terms. If there were, then it would be resolved in favour of the precise empowering provisions within the PS Act at s 149C. That same reasoning applies to a number of similar clauses in the Directive, which use terms such as ‘role’, ‘a position’ and the like. It is relevant to note that the word ‘role’ does not actually appear in section 149C at all.
  1. [53]
    To be eligible to be reviewed, a person needs to have been seconded or acted at a higher classification level in the department for the requisite period. They must also be eligible, having regard to the merit principle, to be appointed to the position which they occupy at the time of requesting the review.
  1. [54]
    In conducting the review, the department is required to determine whether a person should be permanently appointed to the position to which they have been seconded at the time of requesting the review.
  1. [55]
    It follows that the position the subject of the review was the AO8 position occupied by Mrs Ingram, numbered 30100241. I accept there may be more than one at-level position in the team, but Mrs Ingram is only able to be appointed to the position she occupied when requesting the review.
  1. [56]
    In reviewing the decision, that is indeed the position against which Mrs Ingram was reviewed. That is most apparent in the decision maker’s reasoning that the incumbent will be returning imminently to the position which they had previously occupied and to which Mrs Ingram had been seconded, and so there was no longer a need for her to be seconded. The decision was fair and reasonable in that the review was conducted against the correct position. 
  1. [57]
    That reasoning was followed in Holcombe. The words the position must be given effect, and merit is an entirely separate consideration.

Genuine operational requirements of the department 

  1. [58]
    The Directive, at cl 4.2, sets out the “Circumstances that would support the temporary engagement of an employee”. Slavish concurrence to that clause is not tantamount to considering the genuine operational reasons of the department. However, it is entirely fair and reasonable for the Department to consider those factors in arriving at a conclusion of whether to permanently appoint Mrs Ingram to the position.
  1. [59]
    The review is conducted with respect to the position occupied by Mrs Ingram. That was the correct approach. It is not a more broad-ranging consideration of whether she should continue be employed at a higher level in her present workplace. Typically, only one person may occupy the position she presently occupies at any one time. That is reasoned in the Decision, and in the Respondent’s submissions.
  1. [60]
    Mrs Ingram submits that there have been two persons within a single position for periods over the last two years, and so the Respondent’s submissions about that issue should not be accepted. I disagree. First, there is no evidence of that arrangement beyond Mrs Ingram’s submission. Second, it may be the case that there exists some administrative means to arrange that on a temporary basis. That does not obviate the fact that what is sought by Mrs Ingram is either the creation of a new position, or the permanent appointment of two persons to the same position. Neither of those outcomes is tenable or provided for in s 149C. Indeed, the Department submits that they have no need for two persons to be permanently appointed to the same position. Those circumstances present a genuine operational reason not to appoint Mrs Ingram to the higher duties position permanently.
  1. [61]
    Mrs Ingram makes various submissions about a lack of discussions with the substantive occupant, or that person’s opinion about their desire to return to the role. That somewhat misplaces the positions of the parties. It is not for the incumbent to determine whether they return to their substantive position after any higher duties, but rather for the Department to determine. Whether the incumbent would like to remain in their higher duties is of limited relevance.
  1. [62]
    The submission of Mrs Ingram that the secondment is not for a fixed period, or for a defined or known period, and so is not truly temporary, is not persuasive. It is quite evident that Mrs Ingram’s engagement in the higher duties position is intimately tied to backfilling another employee. The return of the substantive employee is not mere speculation. The incumbent was extended in a different position until 31 January 2021, and as a result Mrs Ingram was extended until 31 January 2021 in the incumbent’s position. The uncertainty in how long the higher duties arrangements may last does not render that arrangement non-temporary. On the contrary, backfilling is a legitimate basis for temporary engagement in higher duties and is, by its very nature, often of an uncertain duration.
  1. [63]
    Indeed, even if it were the case that the incumbent of the position extends in their present position, and Mrs Ingram is offered and accepts a commensurate extension in her present position, that does not obviate the fact that the position belongs to another person and they are to return to it.
  1. [64]
    The engagement is of the type contemplated within cl 4.2(b) of the Directive, being a circumstance that would support temporary rather than permanent engagement.
  1. [65]
    Altogether, those circumstances were said to present a genuine operational requirement for the department, which prevented Mrs Ingram being permanently appointed to her seconded position. There is nothing within that decision or reasoning which was unfair or unreasonable, when regard is had to the precise wording of s 149C. Only one person may occupy the position permanently at any one time in the usual course.
  1. [66]
    Mrs Ingram also makes several submissions, which broadly speaking deal with workforce planning by the Department. Those are beyond the scope of this appeal. The question to be determined in this appeal is simply whether the particular decision was fair and reasonable.

Adequate reasoning

  1. [67]
    The reasoning contained within the decision was sufficient. It established the material facts and evidence, including Mrs Ingram’s history of engagements and the reason for her present engagement. The decision also contained the reasoning as to why the request was rejected.

The effect of any previous decisions

  1. [68]
    The Directive came into effect on 25 September 2020, while s 149C of the PS Act became effective (subject to transitional arrangements) on 14 September 2020.
  1. [69]
    S 149C(4)(b) provides that the department must consider the reasons for each decision previously made or taken to have been made under that section in relation to that person during their period of employment at the higher classification level.
  1. [70]
    An employee is only entitled to make one request for review every 12 months, in accordance with s 149C(3) and cl 5.4 of the Directive.
  1. [71]
    Given the timing of the legislative instruments coming into effect, the date of the decision, and the time restrictions on requesting reviews, there cannot have been any previous decisions made under that section with respect to Mrs Ingram. Further, the term ‘taken to have been made’ relates to s 149C(6), which provides that if the department does not make a decision within the requisite review period, they are taken to have refused the request.
  1. [72]
    It follows that the decision was fair and reasonable in that respect. 

Conclusion

  1. [73]
    Mrs Ingram has been acting in a higher duties AO8 position. That engagement was to backfill another employee, the incumbent of that position. Mrs Ingram has sought, pursuant to s 149C of the PS Act, to be made permanent in that position.
  1. [74]
    S 149C of the PS Act applies to an employee seconded to or acting at a higher classification level in the department, for at least 1 year, and who is eligible to be appointed to ‘the position’ at the higher classification level with regard to the merit principle. The employee may ask the department chief executive to appoint them to the position permanently. In determining that review, the department must have regard to the genuine operational requirements of the department and any previous reviews.
  1. [75]
    The consideration of whether the employee meets the merit principle, and whether there are any genuine operational requirements which prevent the conversion, are with respect to ‘the position’ occupied by the employee at the time of seeking the review. It is not an unconstrainted review into similar positions or roles. The more broadly ranging review that Mrs Ingram appears to seek is to some extent provided for in ss 149A and 149B, but the language of s 149C is pointedly distinguishable. The interpretation which I am compelled to adopt is that which gives effect to the wording of s 149C, and the practical limitations which are inherent to s 149C and the Directive.
  1. [76]
    I recognise that there is some inconsistent wording applied in the Directive, including terms such as ‘role’, but that is resolved by paying appropriate heed to the context of those terms. In short, the power to grant the request is contained at s 149C of the PS Act, which is supplemented by the Directive. In several instances, the Directive re-phrases or summarises s 149C, particularly when discussing the objects of the Directive, and in doing so uses slightly different terminology. Such instances do not supersede or disturb the precise wording of the empowering provision, namely s 149C, which establishes review against, and potential appointment to, the position. Indeed, nowhere in s 149C is the term ‘role’ used.
  1. [77]
    In conducting the review against the appropriate position, the Department reasoned there is an incumbent of the position, that person may return to the position, and the Department has no need for two persons permanently appointed to the same position. That was said to present a genuine operational reason not to appoint Mrs Ingram permanently to the seconded position. I have found that decision to be fair and reasonable. Only one person may occupy the position permanently at any one time in the usual course. As such, I confirm the decision appealed against and dismiss the appeal.
  1. [78]
    I order accordingly.

Orders:

  1. That the appeal is dismissed.

Footnotes

[1] Goodall v State of Queensland (Unreported decision of the Supreme Court of Queensland, Dalton J, 10 October 2018), 5; Industrial Relations Act 2016 (Qld) s 567(1).

[2] Ibid; Industrial Relations Act 2016 (Qld) s 562B(2).

[3] Industrial Relations Act 2016 (Qld) s 567(2).

[4] Page v John Thompson and Lesley Dwyer, As Chief Executive Officer, West Moreton Hospital and Health Service [2014] QSC 252, [60] - [61]; Industrial Relations Act 2016 (Qld) s 562B.

[5] Katae v State of Queensland & Anor [2018] QSC 225, [26].

[6] Directive 13/20 Appointing a public service employee to a higher classification level, cl 1.

[7] Directive, cl 1.2(a)-(b).

Close

Editorial Notes

  • Published Case Name:

    Ingram v State of Queensland (Department of Housing and Public Works)

  • Shortened Case Name:

    Ingram v State of Queensland (Department of Housing and Public Works)

  • MNC:

    [2021] QIRC 11

  • Court:

    QIRC

  • Judge(s):

    McLennan IC

  • Date:

    19 Jan 2021

Appeal Status

Please note, appeal data is presently unavailable for this judgment. This judgment may have been the subject of an appeal.
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