PM&C suddenly downgrades Scott Morrison’s brand new ‘Priorities and Delivery Unit’

By Stephen Easton

December 9, 2019

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The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet only recently established a brand new team, as part of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s efforts to put his own stamp on the bureaucracy and demand a closer focus on the implementation of the government’s policy agenda, but its role in the department has now been downgraded significantly.

The Priorities and Delivery Unit first sat at the highest level of the department, led by newly recruited deputy secretary Tess Bishop, but recently it lost this status and Bishop moved to a new job in a different federal department.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced he had established the unit, with the “great assistance and leadership” of former PM&C secretary Martin Parkinson, in his landmark speech to the public service on August 19. He said all cabinet ministers were developing their own sets of key objectives and targets for the public service and suggested the new unit would play a coordinating role from the central agency.

“This is something we’ve been doing a lot of work on since the election,” said Morrison. “We’ve made good progress, but there’s a lot more to be done.”

The new team had a key role in the PM’s ambitions to improve federal service delivery, inspired by the New South Wales government, which added a Premier’s Delivery Unit to its central agency several years earlier.

But only a few months later, sometime before the latest organisational chart was published on November 6, the P&D unit moved two layers down the organisational tree. It is now a branch within the Cabinet division, which is led by first assistant secretary Leonie McGregor, and sits alongside the National Security and Cabinet Systems branch and the Cabinet Secretariat. It is now the responsibility of an assistant secretary, Alistair Campbell, who sits two rungs below a deputy secretary.

In early September, Bishop’s name appeared on the top row of the PM&C organisational chart alongside the five other deputy secretaries for social policy, economics, industry and jobs, governance, and national security. By the time the chart was last updated, she was no longer working at PM&C.

She has since moved to the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development to lead the South East Queensland City Deal, a fitting job given she recently worked for the Queensland Department of the Premier and Cabinet as head of strategy and engagement.

Bishop has also run the office of Queensland Health’s director-general, and held senior roles in central and line agencies both in Victoria and the sunshine state. She has significant private-sector experience with KPMG Europe.

We first saw the new unit appear in mid-September, when the position of deputy secretary for social policy was advertised. That role went to Caroline Edwards, who has previously worked at the same level in the Department of Health and the Department of Human Services.

The Mandarin contacted PM&C to ask why the unit was downgraded.

“Over the past few months the role and scope of the Priorities and Delivery Unit has evolved,” a spokesperson for the department said on Tuesday.

“The Priorities and Delivery Unit is now a team of approximately 10 staff. In light of these changes, the unit was made a branch within Cabinet Division and Ms Bishop accepted an offer from the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development. Ms Bishop commenced with PM&C on 29 July 2019 and started her new role on 14 October 2019.”

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