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New Government shakes up Federal agencies

by Michael Read •
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Tony Abbott’s first day in the Prime Ministership has seen a significant shake-up at the senior levels in the public service, alongside a host of Machinery of Government changes.

Three senior bureaucrats have been given immediate marching orders, while one other has signalled his intention to resign next year.

Dr Andrew Metcalfe, Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry; Blair Comley, Secretary of the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism; and Dr Don Russell, Secretary of the Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education, have all had their contracts terminated as one of Tony Abbott’s first official acts as Prime Minister.

Treasury Secretary Dr Martin Parkinson will leave next year following the delivery of the Coalition’s first budget.

The move to clear out senior public servants following the election of a new Government is certainly not unprecedented. In 1996, John Howard stood down six departmental heads, approximately one-third of the total, after being sworn in as Prime Minister.

It is also not uncommon for a new Government to implement significant Machinery of Government changes after being sworn-in to Government. The release of the Administrative Arrangements Order by the Department of Premier and Cabinet today reveals the shape of the new bureaucracy in Canberra.

The main victims of these changes seems to have been supersized department titles, with the structure of those agencies with an ICT responsibility largely unchanged.

The Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy will now be officially referred to as the Department of Communications. According to the Administrative Arrangements Order, the Department still has authority over broadband policy and programmes, telecommunications policies and programmes, and policy issues relating to the digital economy and the information economy.

Likewise, despite taking a minor trim to its name, the Department of Finance has largely unchanged responsibilities in the ICT space. It is still required to manage ‘Government on-line delivery and information technology and communications management’.

The Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education is now simply the Department of Industry. The new Department has been given specific remit to oversee ‘information and communications technology industry development’. Responsibility for Climate Change policy has been transferred to the Department of the Environment and responsibility for Tertiary Education policy has been transferred to the Department of Education.

However some other departments are facing more substantial changes. Notably:

  • A Department of Social Services has been established, separate to the Department of Human Services, to carry out all matters relating to ageing, mental health, social housing, child support, and multicultural affairs;
  • The Department of Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts and Sport has been dismantled with all functions absorbed into other Departments. Responsibility for regional Australia and local government has been handed over to the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development (formerly the Department of Infrastructure and Transport).  Responsibility for cultural affairs and support for the arts has been moved to the Attorney-General’s Department whilst responsibility for sport and recreation has been transferred to the Department of Health;
  • The Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism has been dissolved. Responsibility for resources has been absorbed by the Department of the Environment whilst implementation of energy policy and domestic tourism is now to be administered by the Department of Industry. International tourism will be covered by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; and
  • The Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations has been divided into two new agencies, the Department of Education and the Department of Employment.


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