Prime Minister Scott Morrison plans a major restructure of the Australian Public Service, which may see multiple secretaries lose their jobs, according to news reports today.
Department of Communications and the Arts secretary Mike Mrdak, Health secretary Glenys Beauchamp, Department of Human Services secretary Renée Leon and Agriculture secretary Daryl Quinlivan have all been named as likely to be moved on.
Update: Glenys Beauchamp stays in. Employment secretary Kerri Hartland is out. Read the full story here.
Today the word from The Australian is that Morrison plans to “put an axe through the public service” by reducing the number of federal departments and sending some secretaries packing. Morrison’s response to the APS Review led by David Thodey will be to implement the biggest machinery of government shake-up since sweeping reforms introduced in 1986, according to the report.
This will reportedly be part of a shift toward “several more super-departments” in an effort to remove more of what Morrison calls “red tape” and “congestion” inside the public service.
Meanwhile, the Australian Financial Review reports that as many as five secretaries could get the sack as whole departments are abolished.
“Canberra is rife with speculation that the shake-up will be the biggest in decades,” writes AFR political editor Phil Coorey, who says the afore-mentioned secretaries are all likely to go.
Coorey also reports that Morrison rejected a draft of the Thodey report as “too wishy-washy” and demanded a new version with “more robust” recommendations.
— ABC Politics (@politicsabc) December 4, 2019
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Coorey reports it is “heavily rumoured” that Quinlivan will be replaced by Andrew Metcalfe, the former secretary of the Immigration Department of old, who now works for Ernst & Young in Canberra. Metcalfe was terminated shortly after the Coalition came to power in 2013, ahead of the merger of Immigration with the former customs service, which has since led to the establishment of the present Department of Home Affairs.
The Australian’s article also pointed the bone at Mrdak. Both reports suggest he may be left without a job and that Communications will be merged with the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development.
Mrdak previously led the Infrastructure department from 2009 to 2017, when he moved across to DCA.
All four named secretaries have spent a reasonable amount of time at the highest level of the public service. Only Quinlivan, who was promoted to his current role in mid-2015, has yet to spend at least the full standard term of five years at the top.
Leon became a department secretary in September 2013, as head of the Department of Employment. Beauchamp was appointed to lead former PM Julia Gillard’s Department of Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government in 2010.
The MoG that wasn’t
The ABC reports the PM has also suddenly changed his mind about the shift of water policy from the Department of Agriculture to Infrastructure, which was made official by new administrative orders signed by the Governor-General only three weeks ago.
About 120 staff from Quinlivan’s department were bade farewell by their colleagues one week ago, according to the article, but then the next day were suddenly told they would be staying put.
They already had new security passes for the Infrastructure department, and their new IT equipment was waiting for them, according to the Community and Public Sector Union’s national vice-president Lisa Newman. She told the ABC the staff were “shocked” by the unprecedented u-turn that appears to disregard the government’s own formal bureaucratic marching orders.
The ABC quotes the PM’s office and an email from the secretary, saying these staff would stay in Agriculture to focus on the drought.
“These [dry] conditions aren’t likely to change in the immediate future,” Quinlivan wrote. “The Government has therefore decided that while there were benefits in co-locating water and infrastructure policy functions, the continuity of our drought, water and industry policy work is more important at this time.”
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack is the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development, and is assisted by six other ministers in the portfolio, including David Littleproud, who is specifically responsible for water resources.