Morrison searching for new PM&C chief after Martin Parkinson calls time, more departmental secretaries expected to go in APS shake-up

By Stephen Easton

July 25, 2019

BREAKING NEWS: Philip Gaetjens will replace Martin Parkinson as secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, the PM has just announced. Steven Kennedy will replace Gaetjens as secretary of the Treasury. More to come…

Dr Martin Parkinson will step down as Scott Morrison’s top public servant at the end of August and he won’t be the only secretary to go, as the PM pursues “immediate and sweeping reforms” to the Australian Public Service.

Parkinson announced he would retire from the APS in just over a month via the The Australian, specifically to allow Morrison to “move swiftly with a cultural shake-up” across the public service and serve a full term with his own pick in the key role.

“A senior government source confirmed that the Prime Minister had been scouting for a potential replacement from the private sector,” reports the newspaper.

Several other department heads are “expected to be replaced” in a major shake-up. according to the report, and the number of departments could be reduced.

Morrison wants to put his own stamp on the bureaucracy shortly before he receives the final report of the biggest independent APS review in years, through “cultural and technological reforms” inspired, at least in part, by the review’s interim ideas.

The PM and the secretary say they decided Parkinson could best can serve the government by moving aside as soon as possible, more than a year before the end of his current term of appointment in January, 2021, when he had originally planned to retire.

Having moved responsibility for the public service into his own portfolio, Morrison’s reforms will continue his focus on policy implementation and service delivery, as well as new accountability arrangements for ministers and mandarins and efforts to prioritise the needs of business by speeding up decisions.

“We don’t expect the public service to run the government,” Morrison said in the announcement by newspaper.

“That’s what we were elected to do. In my ­experience, the public service ­always works best when it has strong guidance and leadership.”

“That is what they will get from me and my ministerial team.

“My view of the public service is straightforward: respect and ­expect — respect their capabil­ities, and expect them to get on board and implement the government’s agenda.”

No bad blood

In his exclusive interview with the News Corp Australia flagship, Parkinson said there was no “bad blood” involved.

“It’s quite simple, really. ­Absolutely I would not want anyone to think there was anything about my relationship with the Prime Minister that was leading me to leave.

“It is up to others to judge, but I think what he would tell you is that he and I have a very good personal and professional relationship. And I’ve really enjoyed working with him since the period he became PM.

“He is at the beginning of the term. He has a full agenda. And I came to the view it was better all around that he had someone who could go the full term with him.”

There is an obvious sense of déjà vu given the head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet had to step down from his former role as Treasury secretary, just after Morrison’s predecessor Tony Abbott became prime minister in 2013.

Parkinson is quoted in the article saying the “mandarin culture” of the APS is long gone and restating the common view that nowadays, citizens want “Amazon levels of digital service delivery” from governments. He said the APS review was an attempt to push the public service to move faster in that direction.

“What I want is a public service that is knowledge-based, curious, looking all the time for how existing policies are working, at what future policies should be, engaged in collaborating with people inside the public service as well as outside. My concern is that a lot of public servants think disruption is something that happens to other people.”

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