New broom in Victoria: Eccles to replace Tongue at DPC

By David Donaldson

Monday December 1, 2014

The election of a new government in Victoria has seen the state’s most senior bureaucrat walk. Premier and Cabinet secretary Andrew Tongue will be replaced by Chris Eccles.

Victorian Department of Premier and Cabinet Secretary Andrew Tongue announced his resignation on Sunday, following the election of a new Labor government. Former New South Wales DPC director-general Chris Eccles will replace him.

A spokesman for Premier-elect Daniel Andrews told The Mandarin: “Mr Andrews respects Mr Tongue. Mr Tongue offered his resignation and Mr Andrews accepted it.”

Andrews’ office refused to comment on machinery of government changes, including the rumour that the incoming government would split up the Department of Environment and Primary Industries.

Tongue (pictured top) took up the top post in April 2013 once Denis Napthine took over the premiership from Ted Baillieu. He was previously secretary of the Department of Planning and Community Development.

Chris Eccles
Chris Eccles

Eccles is in the fairly unique position of having previously been in charge of central departments in two states: he was head of the NSW DPC from April 2011 before being thrown out when Mike Baird took over as premier from Barry O’Farrell in June this year, and previously served as the head of South Australia’s DPC between February 2009 and March 2011. He is seen as an experienced and highly capable replacement.

He also has experience in the Victorian DPC. In 2007 Eccles was appointed deputy secretary of the Sector Improvement Group, responsible for areas including protocol, organisational development, strategic communications, intergovernmental relations, legal and security/emergencies. Later he was made deputy secretary of the National Reform and Climate Change Group. He also chaired the COAG Skills and Workforce Development Committee and was responsible for supporting the Victorian premier at the Council for the Australian Federation and the Council of the Australian Government.

He began his public service career in Canberra, as an assistant secretary in the ACT Chief Minister’s Department and a legal adviser to the Commonwealth Department of the Arts, Environment and Heritage. He spent seven years in the private sector, including as an associate director at KPMG consulting.

Sources who have spoken to The Mandarin believe the decision to replace Tongue likely springs from Eccles’ strong resume and recent availability rather than any incompatibility between Labor and Tongue. During his time in NSW, Eccles was widely hailed as a moderniser of what was then seen as a lagging bureaucracy, rolling out integrated Service NSW shopfronts among service delivery improvements. Many now put the NSW system ahead of Victoria in terms of innovation and delivery.

The Daily Telegraph reported earlier this year Eccles used to call himself “Mr Wolf” to government staffers, after the Pulp Fiction character whose job it was to dispose of bodies.

“You have seen the movie? When I was explaining to people some part of what the role involved, there was a ­proportion of the job which was just cleaning up stuff,” he said.

Vote counting continues today in electorates too close to call, but Labor will secure a majority of at least eight seats in the lower house. Premier Denis Napthine stood down as Liberal leader on Saturday, while Nationals leader Peter Ryan quit today.

CORRECTION: This original version of this report stated that it is normal for the head of DPC to offer their resignation to an incoming government, but this is not strictly true. Helen Silver’s retention by the Baillieu government was not the only recent example of a new premier keeping on the secretary — Steve Bracks didn’t ask Bill Scales to leave and John Brumby retained Terry Moran when he became premier.

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Ian Killey
Ian Killey
7 years ago

It is of great regret to the standards of the victorian public service that the head of the public service should feel it appropriate to resign on the day following the State election. Whether he did so at the instigation of the incoming Premier or for other reasons is not clear. But as the head of a service which has a long history of providing ( at least until relatively recently) robust free and frank impartial, apolitical services to the government of the day, his duty was to remain at his post.

Moreover, if his resignation was instigated by the incoming premier, this speaks volumes for the low regard that Mr Andrews considers the public service that Mr Tongue led, and indicates a significant challenge for Mr Eccles and the public service as a whole.

Ian Killey PSM

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