The end of an era as four Commonwealth departments cease to exist and new Secretaries Board forms

By Harley Dennett

Monday February 3, 2020

L-R: Dr Michele Bruniges AM, Chris Moraitis PSM, Peter Woolcott AO, Rosemary Huxtable PSM, David Fredericks, Liz Cosson AM CSC, Philip Gaetjens, Kathryn Campbell AO CSC, Simon Atkinson, Dr Steven Kennedy PSM, Michael Pezzullo, Frances Adamson and Chris Jordan AO. Image supplied by IPAA ACT

At the conclusion of any machinery of government change, historians and Wikipedia editors alike will debate whether each affected department of state ceases to exist or has simply been renamed. Today, however, there can be no doubt that four departments are gone.

The Department of Communications and the Arts; Department of Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business; and the Department of Environment and Energy have all be absorbed, whole or split up, and moved into other, now much larger departments. The Department of Human Services received the most ignoble of sentences in a bureaucracy: a demotion, becoming Services Australia, not a department but an agency, subordinate to the Department of Social Services.

Friday last week, their final day was marked by employees with informal gatherings. There were speeches and well-wishes. These departments had storied histories, famed leaders, achievements both grand and personal.

This morning, public servants serving a new department will continue to sit at the same desk, surrounded by the same colleagues, administering the same programs. A bit of money was spent, a bit of time reallocated to administration. For some quick-thinking public servants, this was an opportunity to clear out a bit of deadwood in the reorganisation, making it someone else’s problem.

The new composition of the Secretaries Board (pictured above), now smaller and less diverse than it was, proves that something did change. A shift in power and influence has occurred. Gatekeepers will have a few more supplicants than before. The variety of perspectives that reach the ears of cabinet ministers will be less than it was.

The Remuneration Tribunal took the opportunity to review its much-maligned classification structure for secretaries that creates hierarchy and division where the secretaries themselves would prefer a collegiate board of equals. Former secretaries and long-retired Australian public service commissioners have been the most vocal in their condemnation of the current classifications, in which individual secretaries are ranked in a grade system to determine salaries. Those grades have nothing to do with individual performance, size of their workforce or budget allocation.

READ MORE: Departmental secretaries: how the pecking order really works

The classifications have changed in the last couple of years to reduce the pay scales from 8 tiers to 4. From today, a few more move up from level 2 to level 1, including Michele Bruniges and Andrew Metcalfe.

Level Departments
1A Prime Minister and Cabinet (Phil Gaetjens)
1B Treasury (Steven Kennedy)
1 Agriculture, Water and the Environment (Andrew Metcalfe);
Defence (Greg Moriarty);
Education, Skills and Employment (Michele Bruniges);
Finance (Rosemary Huxtable);
Foreign Affairs and Trade (Frances Adamson);
Health (Brendan Murphy);
Home Affairs (Michael Pezzullo);
Industry, Science, Energy and Resources (David Fredericks);
Social Services (Kathryn Campbell)
2 Attorney-General’s (Chris Moraitis);
Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications (Simon Atkinson);
Veterans’ Affairs (Liz Cosson)

A significant workload has been placed on the Secretaries Board to deliver the APS reforms the Morrison government announced late last year. Phil Gaetjens, as the board’s chair, is responsible for leading the reform efforts. Among the first tasks is preparing a long-term roadmap of steps to improve and integrate services for Australian people and businesses.

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