Top New South Wales public servant picked to lead New Zealand Treasury

By Stephen Easton

Tuesday June 25, 2019

Dr Caralee McLiesh. Image: TAFE NSW

Senior New South Wales public servant Dr Caralee McLiesh has been appointed as the next Secretary to Te Tai Ōhanga, the Treasury of New Zealand, which will also make her chief executive of the department when she makes the move later this year.

McLiesh takes up the five-year appointment on September 16. Until then, the acting secretary is Struan Little, the deputy secretary in charge of budget and public services.

Only last September, McLiesh became managing director of the state’s network of Technical and Further Education (TAFE) institutes after several roles as a deputy secretary in the NSW Treasury from 2008-2018, most recently heading up the fiscal and economic group.

Needless to say, her next challenge across the Tasman is a big one, putting a major feather in her cap and demonstrating the NZ selection panel judged she had a wealth of leadership potential. Her career trajectory as an economist, through the World Bank, top roles in NSW Treasury and what will be one year in charge of the sprawling TAFE organisation suggests she is certainly up to the job.

A statement from NZ State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes described the role as “the largest of the public service chief executive roles” which involves leadership of the nation’s public finance system and will make her the principal economic advisor to the Minister of Finance and the government.

“This is a big and important role for New Zealand and the Public Service,” Hughes said in a statement.

“I am delighted to appoint Dr McLiesh. She is a highly respected, world-class economist with very strong fiscal, economic policy and financial management credentials.”

At TAFE NSW, the commissioner noted, she leads an organisation of about 17,000 people with a budget of $1.8 billion. At NSW Treasury she provided advice on fiscal and economic policy, taxation, intergovernmental relations and balance sheet management and played a key coordinating role in Australia’s largest state government’s budgets.

Hughes also noted McLiesh earned a Public Service Medal in 2017 for her instrumental role in the development of Australia’s first social impact bond, which successfully funded the Newpin program to reduce the number of children in out-of-home care by providing targeted parental support. Reflecting later on the challenging experience of setting up the unconventional funding arrangement, McLiesh explained why social impact bonds would not always be appropriate.

The former Treasury official also spent eight years working at the World Bank and has previously worked for the International Red Cross and Boston Consulting Group.

According to Hughes, this international experience helped get McLiesh over the line for the important position. He noted she had “a decade of executive leadership experience and a track record of delivering in complex economic, political and organisational environments, including advising governments on regulatory reforms in more than 30 OECD and developing countries”.

The commissioner said the Kiwis were also impressed by her work as a principal author of the 2002 World Development Report, and as a co-founder of the Doing Business project, which aims to encourage international efforts towards regulatory reform.

“Dr McLiesh has more than 20 years’ experience in the government, international, not-for-profit, and commercial sectors and has led large, complex reforms with multiple stakeholders to improve citizen outcomes,” he added.

“I have no doubt the Public Service and New Zealand will benefit from her skills and experience.”

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