Respected Victoria Office of Housing Director Margaret Crawford has been forced from her position in the wake of extreme pressure to fix a series of gaffes by Liberal housing minister Wendy Lovell.
Crikey can reveal that Crawford, appointed to statutory position by an independent body under the former Brumby government in February 2008, will move to the Department of Transport as Deputy Secretary, Strategic Transport Planning on a secondment following a rancorous six months inside the Department of Human Services’ 50 Lonsdale Street HQ.
A New Zealander, Doug Craig, will temporarily take Crawford’s role while she is at Transport, and then later when she is on leave.
Housing insiders are in uproar over the move, set to take effect on Monday week, believing their boss to have been the target of a deliberate destabilisation campaign.
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Crawford’s departure takes to three the number of statutory office holders deposed amid murky political circumstances in Victoria this year, alongside Director of Public Prosecutions Jeremy Rapke and Victoria Police Commissioner Simon Overland.
She is one of the Victorian Public Service’s most senior bureaucrats, with an annual salary of more than $300,000 and is charged with overseeing the state’s 65,000 strong public housing stock and managing politically sensitive waiting lists of close to 40,000 people.
Senior housing sector insiders say rumours of Crawford’s fate had been percolating for months inside the Office. They told Crikey that she had copped extreme heat from Lovell following a botched response she gave to a question on set-top boxes for pensioners in state parliament last month for which she was later forced to issue an apology.
At a fiery Public Accounts and Estimates Committee hearing in May — attended by Crawford — the Minister was unable to recall the Office of Housing’s rental operating deficit and stumbled over other questions on the proportion of state funding to be allocated to new public housing.
In the lead-up to PAEC, Ministers are usually provided with detailed briefing notes and Crikey understands that Lovell was aggrieved that she was unable to recall basic facts provided to her in good faith.
A war of words also erupted following the release of March quarter public housing waiting list data and Lovell’s disappointing performance in parliament in May when Labor claimed the minister couldn’t explain key clauses in the Residential Tenancies Act.
Her departure was shrouded by a disinformation barrage overseen by the department’s spin doctors. A DHS spokesperson, Brendan Ryan, denied point blank last Friday that Crawford had left the Housing role and then bizarrely refused to respond to a follow-up question inquiring into the new gig. A spokesperson for Wendy Lovell referred queries back to Ryan.
Crawford’s exit will add to long-held fears that the Baillieu government could be about to embark on a clean-out of prominent Labor-era public service posts, despite denying the existence of a sacking black list in the weeks following November’s state election.
Late last year, Lovell claimed she had “inherited a crisis” across the housing portfolio and that 41,000 people were on public housimg waiting lists. In May she reported that public housing waiting list had declined to 37,430 under her watch.
Shadow housing minister Dick Wynne slammed the sequence of events this afternoon.
“This is another Baillieu government statutory office holder — this time the Director of Housing — who has been undermined by the government and forced to move to another position. Wendy Lovell at every opportunity has sought to undermine the Director to every not for profit agency and housing service provider in the state,” he said.
“How gutless to have this decision announced, at the close of a Parliamentary session and before a 7 week break in a shameless attempt to avoid scrutiny.”