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Fired public servant sends bizarre email after being replaced with heroin dealer married to Labor MP

A sacked senior public servant has sent a lengthy goodbye letter to government staff after he was replaced with Labor MP Tanya Plibersek’s husband as the state’s top bureaucrat. 

In one of his first acts as NSW Liberal Premier, Dominic Perrottet ousted Jim Betts from his $644,850-a-year role as secretary of the Department of Premier and Cabinet before he had even started. 

Mr Betts, a former British punk rocker, was appointed by Mr Perrottet’s predecessor Gladys Berejiklian in July to start this month as the state’s most powerful mandarin charged with implementing the government’s key policies.

Instead Mr Perrottet on Thursday sacked him and installed Michael Coutts-Trotter, a well-regarded servant who has spoken publicly about his battle with heroin as a young man – which even landed him in jail. 

In a great story of redemption, he went on to marry Ms Plibersek, a federal Labor frontbencher who was previously the party’s deputy leader, and be in charge of the state’s teachers and social workers through running five government departments. 

For his parting message, Mr Betts emailed staff at the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment which he still headed on a $620,650 salary before he was supposed to move up to advising the premier.

‘As you may have read elsewhere, tomorrow (Friday) will be my last day working in the NSW public service. Our new Premier has decided to terminate my contract,’ he said.’

‘I make no complaint about this; Secretaries are appointed by and serve at the discretion of the Premier. What I won’t do is conceal the reality of my termination behind weasel words. I got fired. 

A sacked senior public servant has sent a lengthy 486-word email to staff after being replaced with a former heroin addicted married to federal Labor frontbencher Tanya Plibersek (pictured is Jim Betts with footballer Adam Goodes)

Instead Mr Perrottet, a right-wing Liberal, on Thursday sacked him and installed Michael Coutts-Trotter (left), a jailed former heroin addict and dealer who is married to Tanya Plibersek (right), federal Labor's former deputy leader

Instead Mr Perrottet, a right-wing Liberal, on Thursday sacked him and installed Michael Coutts-Trotter (left), a jailed former heroin addict and dealer who is married to Tanya Plibersek (right), federal Labor’s former deputy leader

‘Not an uncommon experience for public servants these days, and something that many others have suffered in the last year or two.

‘Don’t give an inch to the bigots and the haters; they are losers and history will render them irrelevant.’

Mr Betts, who in February was pictured with retired AFL player and former Australian of the Year Adam Goodes, singled out Indigenous employees in his email.

‘I am particularly proud of our hundreds of Aboriginal staff. Their pride and strength, humour, generosity and courage, have been utterly inspirational,’ he said.

He also suggested his department be active in campaigning for a treaty with Aboriginal Australians even though public service departments are meant to be non-partisan and not engage in political activities.

‘I hope DPIE continues its journey towards genuine reconciliation with our First Nations peoples, acknowledging the reality of the genocide inflicted upon them and the injustice which continues to span generations: the attempt to cancel their language and culture, the taking of their land and of the children,’ he said.

‘DPIE can make a difference by taking its own bold steps on the journey to Truth, Voice and Treaty. Maintain the rage.’

In one of his first acts as NSW Liberal Premier, Dominic Perrottet (pictured) ousted Jim Betts from his $644,850-a-year role as secretary of the Department of Premier and Cabinet before he had even started

In one of his first acts as NSW Liberal Premier, Dominic Perrottet (pictured) ousted Jim Betts from his $644,850-a-year role as secretary of the Department of Premier and Cabinet before he had even started

Mr Betts’s Facebook page features the meme: ‘Always was, Always will be Aboriginal land.’ 

NSW One Nation leader Mark Latham mocked Mr Betts for pushing trendy left-wing views on staff, referencing the controversial book Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe which suggested Aboriginal people were farmers before the British arrived.

‘With the sacking of Jim Betts, NSW public servants are now organising a clearance sale of thousands of Rainbow lanyards, Bruce Pascoe books, degendered language guides and unconscious bias training coupons,’ he tweeted. 

Mr Betts, who has previously worked in the Victorian public service, finished his email by saying he would miss sending group messages about 70s-era pop music.

‘In other news, tonight I completed an unseemly sprint to the 100 mark for Workplace Friday Music Posts, ending with the immortal ABBA,’ his email said.

‘I am grateful to those of you who tuned in, even if only to tell me my music taste was terrible.’

In a parting message, Mr Betts sent a lengthy email to staff at the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment which he still headed before he was supposed to move up to advising the premier

In a parting message, Mr Betts sent a lengthy email to staff at the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment which he still headed before he was supposed to move up to advising the premier

NSW One Nation leader Mark Latham mocked Mr Betts for pushing trendy left-wing views on staff, referencing the controversial book Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe which controversially suggested Aboriginal people were farmers before the British arrived

NSW One Nation leader Mark Latham mocked Mr Betts for pushing trendy left-wing views on staff, referencing the controversial book Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe which controversially suggested Aboriginal people were farmers before the British arrived

Mr Betts has been passed over in favour of Mr Coutts-Trotter, who was jailed in 1984 for conspiracy to import heroin from Thailand after becoming hooked on the drug as a teenager. Mr Coutts-Trotter served three years.

As a troubled teenager from the UK, Mr Coutts-Trotter was struggling to cope with his father’s death from cancer and he regressed from being a small time dealer to a drug smuggler when he became involved in a scheme to import half a kilogram of heroin from Thailand.

A joint Commonwealth-NSW police task force was aware of his plans and he was followed from Redfern Mail Exchange to a private hotel on Elizabeth Street near Central train station in Sydney.

Mr Betts, who in February was pictured with retired AFL players and former Australian of the Year Adam Goodes, singled out indigenous employees in his email

Mr Betts, who in February was pictured with retired AFL players and former Australian of the Year Adam Goodes, singled out indigenous employees in his email

‘Quite sincerely, I deserved to go to jail for those choices. I made choices that were not driven solely by my addiction. I could have been a small time supplier rather than seeking to be a larger supplier. That’s a choice,’ he told Daily Mail Australia in an earlier interview.

Mr Coutts-Trotter went to become a Labor staffer, working as chief-of-staff to Carr government treasurer Michael Egan during the late 1990s after he had completed a Bachelor of Arts in Communications at the University of Technology Sydney.

He married Ms Plibersek in 2000 when she was a recently elected, first-term federal Labor MP and they now have three children together.

Two decades after being put in prison, Mr Coutts-Trotter in 2004 was appointed as the head of his first department and has since been in charge of five government agencies including Education, Finance and Communities and Justice, which he was in charge on a $614,000 salary.

He will now be replacing Tim Reardon as the state’s most powerful bureaucrat as Mr Betts leaves the NSW public service. 

The full text of the email Jim Betts sent his staff

Hi there,

As you may have read elsewhere, tomorrow (Friday) will be my last day working in the NSW public service. Our new Premier has decided to terminate my contract.

I make no complaint about this; Secretaries are appointed by and serve at the discretion of the Premier. What I won’t do is conceal the reality of my termination behind weasel words. I got fired. Not an uncommon experience for public servants these days, and something that many others have suffered in the last year or two.

That said, I wish Dominic Perrottet and his Ministerial team well as they oversee our emergence from the crisis of COVID.

I am obviously very sad to be leaving, but I know that, with Kiersten running DPIE and my friend Michael Coutts-Trotter heading DPC, the public service is in safe hands.

I’ve got form. When I left the Victorian Public Service unceremoniously in 2013, I promised myself I would never again fall in love with my Department.

Epic fail on that count, I’m afraid.

I have loved every minute of my time at DPIE (even the sh** bits). That is down to the people at all levels in our organisation who have embodied our values and worked tirelessly to support our community through the toughest of times. You have justified the faith and optimism I expressed in my first Bulletin back in 2019. Thank you.

I am particularly proud of our hundreds of Aboriginal staff. Their pride and strength, humour, generosity and courage, have been utterly inspirational.

I hope DPIE continues its journey towards genuine reconciliation with our First Nations peoples, acknowledging the reality of the genocide inflicted upon them and the injustice which continues to span generations: the attempt to cancel their language and culture, the taking of their land and of the children. DPIE can make a difference by taking its own bold steps on the journey to Truth, Voice and Treaty. Maintain the rage.

Be good to each other. Be kind. Treat everyone with respect regardless of their position in the hierarchy. Keep striving to create a workplace where everyone feels welcomed. Don’t give an inch to the bigots and the haters; they are losers and history will render them irrelevant.

Stick to the DPIE values, and please give Kiersten every support. You have made me proud, and we have achieved great things across our numerous frontiers of reform. It was nice to have that recognised by Premier Berejiklian just a few weeks back.

Anyone who wants to get in touch can email me (and Lady Betts).

In other news, tonight I completed an unseemly sprint to the 100 mark for Workplace Friday Music Posts, ending with the immortal ABBA. I am grateful to those of you who tuned in, even if only to tell me my music taste was terrible.

This is where the story ends. This is goodbye.

Cheers

JB xx

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