A public servant in NSW for Transport has been told to take three weeks of leave after the shutdown of the state’s train network.
However the reason why remains a mystery, with a member of the opposition calling the decision “extraordinary”.
Transport for NSW Secretary Rob Sharp on Tuesday said he had directed his deputy secretary Megan Bourke-O’Neil to take leave after a department dispute with the rail union led to the department making the decision to shut down the train network.
Mr Sharp said it was not right to detail why he made the decision.
“I think it’s inappropriate to talk about an individual’s leave. Executives (do) take leave,” Mr Sharp said when asked why he had put Ms Bourke-O’Neil on directed leave.
The revelations came on Tuesday during NSW budget estimates hearings into Metropolitan Roads, Women’s Safety and the Prevention of Domestic and Sexual Violence.
During a point of order, Daniel Mookhey said the decision to direct the deputy to take leave during the fallout from the rail shutdown was “extraordinary”.
Mr Sharp said he sought advice, adhering with department guidelines, before placing her on leave.
Under questioning from committee member John Graham, Mr Sharp said she was not at risk of being sacked.
Natalie Ward, Minister for Women’s safety, told the committee she had been made aware the public servant was put on leave last night.
Ms Ward said she understood Ms Bourke-O’Neil was “very capable” and did not believe she was at risk of being fired.
Media reports on Tuesday morning referred to Ms Bourke-O’Neil as a “scapegoat” for the decision to shut down the rail network and said she was well-regarded within the department.
Mr Sharp came under fire last week for the government’s decision to shut down all rail services in greater Sydney during a long-running dispute with the Rail, Tram and Bus Union.
After the shutdown, Mr Sharp was told in a meeting with Premier Dominic Perrottet and Transport Minister David Elliott any major decision would need to be conveyed to the minister in writing.
“I made it very clear … that the current situation is unacceptable,” Mr Elliott said.
“They need to sit down with the unions and improve the capacity on the rail network as quickly as possible.”