Last week, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced major changes to senior management in Public Service agencies, with a round of new appointments as Departmental Secretaries and agency Chief Executives.
One of the key changes was the replacement of Defence Secretary Nick Warner, with Dr Ian Watt, formerly Secretary of the Department of Finance and Deregulation. Warner will move to head the Australian Secret Intelligence Service.
Watt’s appointment secures a formidable team well capable of delivering the Defence Strategic Reform Program. Following a recent Ministerial reshuffle, Senator John Faulkner was placed as Defence Minister to be assisted by Greg Combet as Minister for Defence Personnel, Materiel and Science. Clearly, the Prime Minister has high expectations of these three to achieve the planned $20 billion in savings over the next decade, including ICT savings of $2 billion.
Equally important was the appointment of David Tune, currently an Associate Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Department, to replace Watt at Finance. Rudd has positioned Finance along with Treasury and the Prime Minister’s Department as the central repositories of administrative power. Tune’s appointment signals this will continue.
The decision to appoint Peter Harris as Secretary of the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy replacing Patricia Scott is also interesting. Mr Harris is currently the Secretary of the Victorian Department of Sustainability and the Environment where, as Rudd noted pointedly in his media release, “he is responsible for Victoria’s largest current public infrastructure project” (the $215 million Emergency Services communications network). This indicates Rudd’s high expectation that Harris, along with Communications Minister Steven Conroy, will deliver the NBN project. Meanwhile Patricia Scott becomes a Commissioner at the Productivity Commission.
The retirement of Helen Williams as Secretary of the Department of Human Services sees Centrelink Chief Executive Finn Pratt step into the broader Departmental role, while Lynelle Briggs, currently Public Service Commissioner, becomes Chief Executive of Medicare.
In other Human Services moves, Philippa Godwin becomes Head of the Child Support Agency (her official title since CSA was moved into the Department of Human Services is Deputy Secretary, Child Support and Planning. Carolyn Hogg will act as Centrelink Chief Executive.
Current Australian Ambassador in Washington and former ASIO head Dennis Richardson takes over from Michael L’Estrange as Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs.
The timing of these changes is interesting. Rudd carefully avoided a massive shake-up in the Public Service when elected, understanding the need to avoid the disruption this causes. However, we are now effectively at the Government’s mid-term, and there has been criticism in some quarters at the slow pace of implementation. These changes will act as a catalyst.
However, more important is perhaps the spectre of an early election. If this was to occur in February/March next year, it will be followed by a very tough Budget. Rudd will want the public servants who do the heavy lifting in framing that Budget to be well settled, especially if he makes Ministerial changes after the early Election.