Intelligence expert to take cabinet secretary position


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A top national security and foreign affairs adviser has been named the next cabinet secretary, bumping up the number of vacancies in Australian intelligence agencies to two.

As revealed by the Australian Financial Review, Andrew Shearer, deputy director-general of the Office of National Intelligence, will take the job that has often been held by a senior mandarin, political staffer, or government minister. For example, NSW Liberal Senator Arthur Sinodinos held the position from 2015-2017, before former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull abolished political appointments to the role.

Shearer previously served as a national security adviser to John Howard and Tony Abbott. He has also worked as a strategic advisor on Asia-Pacific security at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, was once director of studies at the Lowy Institute for International Policy, and is listed as a fellow of the staunchly right-wing Institute of Public Affairs.

Shearer’s new role gives him a say over cabinet workings, including national security and the budget.

As a senior diplomat he held the post of political minister-counselor at the Australian embassy in Washington D.C and has held other roles in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade as well as in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

As a deputy secretary in the Victorian public service, he advised on international relationships, trade and investment with a focus on Indonesia and China.

Andrew Shearer. Source: Institute of Public Affairs

Shearer will replace Peter Conran, who was appointed to the job last October.

Conran was of the mandarin variety, having served as the chief executive of the Department of the Premier and Cabinet in Western Australia as well as head of the Northern Territory public service. However, he had also worked as a senior adviser in the Prime Minister’s Office during the Howard years. He had retired in 2016, telling The Mandarin he was riding off into the sunset following an exceptionally rewarding career.

“I’ve worked for and with some great people all around Australia and have had a lot of fun in doing it. Hopefully I’ve had some small influence. My only other comment is that the rewards for a public servant prepared to work hard and take some risks are immense,” he said.

Now that Conran has really retired, the reins have been handed to Shearer.

As per the 12th Cabinet Handbook, the cabinet secretary has authority to:

  • Provide authority to ministers to bring items forward for consideration by the cabinet or a cabinet committee,
  • Finalise the cabinet and cabinet committee agendas,
  • Maintain and enforce the integrity of cabinet rules and processes,
  • Work with ministers and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet to uphold the quality and timeliness of documents coming forward for the cabinet’s consideration,
  • Record deliberations of cabinet and cabinet committee meetings and authorise cabinet minutes,
  • Approve absences of cabinet ministers,
  • Deal with practical issues regarding the co-option of non-cabinet ministers and assistant ministers, and the attendance of officials.

The cabinet secretary is also responsible for advising the Prime Minister on:

  • Appointments made by the cabinet, including board appointments and appointments of government, and other appointments as required,
  • The forward programme of the cabinet and cabinet committee meeting dates.

The appointment comes as Mike Burgess is named head of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, leaving vacancies at the top of the Australian Signals Directorate and the Office of National Intelligence.

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