Ben Rimmer on why he's leaving Canberra for council job

By Jason Whittaker

January 12, 2015

One of Canberra’s brightest is moving south to lead the City of Melbourne. Ben Rimmer tells The Mandarin why he’s leaving Human Services — and myGov — behind.

Ben Rimmer
Ben Rimmer

The lure of returning home to Melbourne — and the chance to lead an innovative local government — has Ben Rimmer, a senior bureaucrat at the Department of Human Services, packing up his desk this week.

Rimmer will become CEO of the City of Melbourne next month, replacing Kathy Alexander who spent eight years at the helm. It’s a loss to Canberra’s biggest bureaucracy, where Rimmer was leading the immense myGov digital program.

Rimmer is a Victorian who spent five years in the Department of Premier and Cabinet as a senior director. He told The Mandarin today he was excited about the role the council is playing in city planning and broader policy.

“It’s a good organisation, it plays an important role in the way Melbourne and Victoria operate, it’s getting more and more important for the centre of Melbourne to operate effectively given the broader changes happening in the economy and the big challenges facing cities, and that makes it an interesting and challenging task,” he said.

“I think there’s a long history and culture in Victoria in supporting the centre of Melbourne as a place to live and work and experience art and culture and shopping and all sorts of things. The council has played a big role in that, but so have state and federal governments.”

Rimmer says there’s “some particular thing about the way Melburnians think about their city”. “It’s fascinating to me people’s reaction to me coming home: a wide range of people in the community generally have reached out to me to tell me how important it is that the city is [led by a strong council],” he said.

And he’s excited about the opportunity to work with Lord Mayor Robert Doyle, the former Liberal state opposition leader who has won strong favour at City Hall. “For me it’s one of the things that’s attractive about the job,” Rimmer said.

In a statement late last year, Doyle said Rimmer was the standout candidate in a strong field:

“Ben brings extensive government and private sector experience to the role and is widely acknowledged as one of the finest thinkers in public policy in Australia. More recently, he has been hands on in the practical business of delivering better government services, especially using new digital technologies.

“I am confident that Ben will be a CEO of vision, intellect and hard work. He is an inspirational leader and we are delighted to welcome him home to Melbourne.”

Rimmer, a former Boston Consulting leader, joined the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet in a strategic policy and implementation role in 2008 before moving to Human Services as associate secretary (service delivery transformation) in 2011.

He’s championed cross-collaboration at Human Services, most recently working with other departments on the myGov project. He says he’s confident momentum will be maintained.

“I think there’s some things happening in Canberra at the moment that has forever broken down the idea of each department doing its own thing in service delivery and … having crossed that hurdle I think there a lot of opportunities to the government and there’s no going back,” he said.

Rimmer says he’s in the process of moving his family back to the southern capital. He starts at the council on February 9.

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